A few months ago, around the time of Bob Marley’s birthday, I shared an image on Facebook that was well circulated. The message I was spreading is that ‘Skin Cancer Does Not Discriminate’. Many people aren’t aware of the fact that Bob Marley died of skin cancer. He was only 36 years old and passed off a sore on his toe as a soccer injury. There is a common misconception that individuals with dark skin are not at risk for skin cancer. In fact, when skin cancer is diagnosed in dark skin, it has often already reached later stages and therefore the individual is more likely to die from the disease!
In the last few weeks we’ve seen Consumer Reports issue their Sunscreen Report and theEWG issued their 2016 Guide To Sunscreen. The news has been full about skin cancer related facts. This is all for good reason. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. Also, when detected early, skin cancer is almost entirely curable.
Diagnosing Skin Cancer in Minorities
Skin cancer presents the same regardless of what color your skin is. Learning the ABCDE’s of Melanoma is a key factor in knowing what to look for on your own body. Moles may be more difficult to examine in dark skin but there are some additional things you should pay attention to:
Know your body.If you have a spot (such as a scratch or pimple) and it isn’t healing as quick as usual, get it checked by a dermatologist. Generally, most small spots will heal in about a week, maybe two. Mr. T, a famous wrestler in the 1980’s, saw his doctor for a small spot on his ear that wasn’t healing. It turned out to be a form of cutaneous T-Cell lymphoma, which is lymphoma that is usually localized to the skin, but can also be systemic. This goes to show that noticeable changes that are not healing should be checked.
In dark skinned people, skin cancer is more likely to occur in places that we generally wouldn’t think of. Check the soles of your feet, the groin area and nail beds. This is referred to as Acral Lentiginous Melanoma and is the type of skin cancer that resulted in the death of Bob Marley
Areas that have experienced chronic skin trauma (lesions on the skin from lupus, scars from burn injuries or diabetic ulcers) have an increased risk for developing types of skin cancer. Be sure to keep these protected from the sun and consult your doctor if you notice any changes to the color or size of the area.
Certain ethnicities are predisposed to skin cancer so regardless of the color of your skin there may be a genetic consideration. For example, if you have a really dark complexion but have some Irish genetics then you will have an increased risk for skin cancer.
Protecting Your Skin
A person of color will have a natural protection of about 13 SPF, but SPF of 15-30 is essential for everyone. I recommend SPF 30 for everyone. Regardless of your skin color, you should be using sunblock on a daily basis – choose a product that is broad spectrum (to block UVA and UVB rays) – and reapply every two hours when outdoors (more frequently if you are swimming or sweating). Check out the two posts below for some tips on how to select & apply sunscreen and how to keep your kids safe in the sun.
The Best Sunblock For Dark Skin
In my opinion, the best product to use for sun protection is a mineral-based sunblock. As a black woman, I know that it is frustrating to find a product that works well but also applies easily. Mineral-based sunblock is notorious for being thick and difficult to apply, leaving a white discoloration on the skin. Even my Caucasian patients often express their concerns about this. My personal recommendations include EltaMD Pure and La Roche-Posay Anthelios Mineral.