WHY SHOULD PEOPLE OF COLOR TAKE ANY SPECIAL PRECAUTIONS WITH THEIR SKIN DURING THE SUMMER MONTHS?
It’s a common misconception among people of color that melanin automatically protects us from the harmful effects of the sun. Many dermatologists call this the “melanin myth.” Most persons with skin of color have an average “inherent” SPF of 13. This is much less than the current recommendations of at least an SPF of 30. Many people of color have a false sense of security, because they assume that they can’t get skin cancer. That couldn’t be farther from the truth.
I always remind my patients that Bob Marley died from melanoma skin cancer. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the US, with more than 3.5 million people being diagnosed with the disease each year. But Caucasians survive melanoma cancer at a better rate than African-Americans do because they’re diagnosed and offered treatment more quickly.
HOW DO YOU RESPOND TO PEOPLE WHO SAY THAT AFRICAN AMERICANS DON’T NEED TO TAKE ANY SPECIAL PRECAUTIONS WITH THEIR SKIN BECAUSE “BLACK DON’T CRACK.”
Another myth we have in the African-American community is that Black skin doesn’t age, and so it doesn’t require all of the extra skin care that white skin may require. While skin of color does not show as much extrinsic aging in the form of fine lines and wrinkles, what we do have is a lot of skin discoloration, brown spots, hyperpigmentation, and uneven skin tone, which tends to worsen with age. For those with deeper skin tones, dark spots or post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation often occur after an inflammatory lesion from acne or bug bites.
IS EVERYONE, REGARDLESS OF SKIN COLOR, AT RISK FOR SKIN CANCER IF PRECAUTIONS AREN’T TAKEN?
Yes. When it comes to skin cancer in communities of color there are many factors at play. Harmful ultraviolet rays from the sun can cause skin cancer, particularly if you have lighter skin. Sunscreen and sun avoidance are the only ways to protect one’s self from harmful UV rays.
There are genetic factors that influence skin cancer in people of color. For example, people who have dark skin are more susceptible to acral lentiginous melanoma (ALM), an especially dangerous form of melanoma that typically appears on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. This is the type of skin cancer that Bob Marley passed away from at age 36.
STEPS WE SHOULD TAKE TO PROTECT OUR HAIR AND OUR KID’S HAIR FROM POOL CHLORINE? OCEAN WATER?
The most important thing you can do to keep your hair healthy during the summer months is to keep your hair moist. The sun will definitely dry out your hair if you don’t take action; invest in a good leave-in conditioner. Over shampooing of the hair can further strip and dry out the hair, so you may want to consider a co-wash instead (washing with conditioner).
If you swim often, coat your hair with oil prior to swimming and put your hair in twists to limit the absorption of chlorine and salt water that will damage natural hair. You can also consider a swim cap.
DOES ACNE GET WORSE IN THE SUMMER?
Acne doesn’t necessarily get worse in the summer, if you already have good skin care practices in place. Acne can sometime be worse in the summer if make-up and other debris from the day is allowed to build up and clog pores. Washing our face morning and night is very important to gently remove the debris that may clog pores. In the summer, opt for a light moisturizer that can be combined with your sunscreen.
ANY OTHER SKIN CONDITIONS EXACERBATED BY EXPOSURE TO THE SUN?
People of color are more prone to a stubborn pigmentary condition called melasma. Melasma is a condition that is characterized by patchy discoloration on the skin that can be extremely persistent and non-responsive to common skin brightening therapies.
It is sometimes called the mask of pregnancy because it is worsened by hormones (think pregnancy and birth control) and sun exposure. The best way to prevent and treat skin discoloration in sunscreen, because the sun stimulates more melanin production Incorporate gentle chemical exfoliants such as glycolic acid washes, or retinol-based products, or a vitamin C serum into your summer skin care routine to prevent and treat hyperpigmentation.
THE SUN IS GOOD FOR GETTING VITAMIN D, BUT HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH?
Vitamin D is a very important vitamin for overall health. Low vitamin D is linked to osteoporosis, autoimmune disease, depression, and potentially, some types of cancers. Many people of color are vitamin D deficient. Therefore, most doctors encourage patients to improve their vitamin D intake through the use of supplements. However, approximately 10 to 15 minutes of exposure to arms, legs, abdomen and back, two to three times a week is enough to produce sufficient amounts of vitamin D.
WHAT IS SPF IN SUNSCREEN AND HOW DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH IS NEEDED?
SPF stands for sun protective factor. SPF (sun protection factor) is a relative measure of how long sunscreen will protect you from ultraviolet (UV) B rays. UVB rays cause sunburns and skin cancer. UVA rays penetrate more deeply and are responsible for skin aging as well as DNA damage that can cause skin cancer. Dermatologists generally recommend and SPF of 30 or above for adequate sun protection.
You want to choose a sunscreen that says it’s broad spectrum which means that it will protect against UVB and UVA rays. If you are going to be sweating a lot or swimming you want to opt for a water proof sunscreen. Sunscreen needs to be applied every two hours. 1 oz of sunscreen is needed to adequately cover an adult body.
WHAT ABOUT PEOPLE WHO WORK OUTSIDE IN DIRECT SUNLIGHT?
Yes, those who work in direct sunlight may also want to consider UPF clothing in addition to sunscreen. The UPF clothing is impregnated with sunscreen. There are several brands that offer pretty fashionable and breathable clothing. These pieces can be washed and re-worn to protect large body surfaces areas from the sun. When at all possible, it’s best to try to avoid the sun during the peak hours of 10 am and 3 pm.
IS A SPECIAL TYPE OF SUNSCREEN REQUIRED FOR INFANTS?
Dermatologists recommend that infants and children under the age of six only use mineral sunscreens. Mineral sunscreens contain natural elements like zinc and titanium oxide, which we know are not easily absorbed into the blood stream. There is a growing concern that chemical sunscreens may exposure children to hormone disruptors and other toxic chemicals that may be absorbed into the blood stream. You want to also avoid spray sunscreens in children.
WHAT’S THE BEST WAY TO TAKE CARE OF SUNBURN?
The best thing to do is to make sure to keep the skin well hydrated. Drink plenty of water, and you can also make a cold milk compress. The cool milk helps pull heat away from the skin and the vitamin A and D in milk are antioxidants, which can help assist healing the skin. Ibuprofen can help with the pain associated with a sunburn. If blisters form, don’t pop them. Apply Vaseline to the blisters and allow them to heal.
IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE THAT WE SHOULD KNOW ABOUT KEEPING OUR SKIN SAFE AND HEALTHY DURING THE SUMMER MONTHS?
Yes. It’s important to protect your skin’s barrier all year round. In the winter, we are more likely to be applying creams to our skin because we don’t want to look ashy. It’s important to keep your skin well hydrated by drinking plenty of water and moisturizing.
Take care with how you remove hair… because everyone is doing more of that during the summer. Be mindful of the lifespan of your razor blades. Dull or bacteria-ridden blades can lead to folliculitis and ingrown hairs, so it’s important to clean your raiser after your shave and to throw out the blade after about 4 shaves.
If you prefer waxing, remember that in skin of color, the inflammatory response associated with waxing can lead to unwanted pigmentation which can be long-lasting. Immediate treatment using a little over the counter steroid cream can help minimize post inflammatory hyperpigmentation. If you opt for laser hair removal, remember to see a board-certified dermatologist specializing in skin of color, because many lasers, if not appropriately handled, can cause burns in darker skin tones.
Dr. Joyce Imahiyerobo-Ip is an expert in cosmetic, surgical, and medical dermatology. She is the owner and medical director of Vibrant Dermatology and Skin Bar MD. A native of Boston, Massachusetts, Dr. Imahiyerobo-Ip graduated cum laude from Harvard University with a bachelor’s degree in health policy.
She then traveled to the United Kingdom to pursue a master’s degree at Cambridge University. At Cambridge, Dr. Imahiyerobo-Ip studied international development, graduating with the highest honors
After receiving her medical degree from Cornell University’s Weill Medical College, she completed specialized training in dermatology at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, where she served as a chief resident in her final year.
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