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Dark Skin & Sun Protection

Dark Skin & Sun Protection

Overview

Dark skin does afford you better protection against the sun compared to people with fair complexions, according to a July 2006 BBC News report. However, dark skin won't put you in the clear. Your skin tone won't protect you against signs of photoaging or skin cancer inflicted by the sun's damaging ultraviolet rays. Using sun protection, including applying sunscreen and avoiding the sun's rays during peak hours, is important regardless of your skin tone.

About Dark Skin

Melanocytes are the cells that dictate how dark your skin will be. The American Academy of Dermatology states that regardless of ethnicity, everyone has the same number of melanocytes. However, the melanosomes in melanocytes are responsible for producing melanin, the pigment that gives your skin its color. People with dark skin have melanosomes that are larger and in greater abundance than people with fair skin. "Skin of color" refers to people of various races and ethnicities, says the AAD, including Asians, African-Americans, Native Americans and Latinos.

Cosmetic Issues

Wrinkles and dry, thin or sagging skin is a part of the extrinsic aging process, which simply occurs with age, says the AAD. But photoaging–sun exposure–can make signs of aging more pronounced. Although it's true that people with fair skin are more at risk for signs of photoaging, dark skinned individuals aren't completely immune from the damage caused by repeated sun exposure. According to the AAD, if you have extremely dark skin, you may notice only fine lines and irregular pigmentation. According to the BBC News report, people with black skin have a built-in sun protection factor, or SPF, or around 13, which prevents about twice as much UV radiation than people with fair skin. However, you still need to use sunscreen with a SPF of at least 15 to better protect your skin from the sun's UV rays. The American Academy of Dermatology takes a more cautious approach and recommends a sunscreen with a SPF of at least 30.

Bigger Dangers

Skin cancer is associated with various factors, says the AAD, including a family history of the disease, exposure to X-rays, a depressed immune system and scarring of the skin. Although people with fair skin who burn easily are at a greater risk for skin cancer, it can happen to people of all skin colors, says the AAD. According to the Cleveland Clinic, basal cell carcinoma is diagnosed most frequently, followed by squamous cell carcinoma. Four percent of skin cancer cases are comprised of melanoma, the most deadly form of the disease. Malignant melanoma can look different in various skin tones, says the BBC News report. Fair-skinned individuals usually notice a change in a mole, while dark skinned people typically see the cancer on a part of their body that's usually protected from the sun, such as the palms of the hands and soles of the feet.

Using Sunscreen

Daily use of sunscreen by people with all skin colors is advised by the AAD, even on overcast days. Select a water-resistant sunscreen that gives you broad-spectrum protection against both ultraviolet A and B rays, suggests the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. Rub it on to all parts of your skin exposed to the sun at least 30 minutes before you head outdoors. Make sure to use enough sunscreen–this is where most people typically fail to use good sun protection. You should use at least one ounce of sunscreen, or enough to fill a shot glass. Reapply it every two hours whenever you're exposed to the sun or anytime after you swim or perspire heavily.

Other Preventive Strategies

You can mitigate sun damage simply by using prevention along with your sunscreen. The AAD suggests staying in the shade when the sun's rays are their hottest, between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Wear clothes that protect your arms and legs and toss on a hat with a full brim whenever you go outdoors.

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