Results from a recent L’Oréal study on minorities and skin cancer reveal that message is still far from taking hold.
In that survey, 65 percent of minority respondents said they didn’t consider themselves at risk for skin cancer, while 62 percent of African American adults said they’ve never even worn sunscreen. Only a meager 31 percent of minorities have performed a skin cancer check, and 17 percent have had a full body examination by a dermatologist.
“The bottom line is that everyone needs to wear a full spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 daily and get a body check at least once a year,” says Downie, who adds that if you have a family history of skin cancer, it should be twice a year, and even more often than that for those previously diagnosed with skin cancers. “I have an under 35-year-old patient who just had a melanoma removed six weeks ago and already we think we’ve just found another one,” says Downie. “That’s unusual, but if you’ve had an unsafe sun history these spots can pop up fast.”
Experts say environmental change is one reason skin cancer in minorities is soaring. “Ozone depletion makes today’s sun more damaging than ever,” says Dr. Wendy Roberts, medical director of Desert Dermatology Skin Institute in Rancho Mirage, CA.
And a culture seeped in an obsessive love of all things bronze has some entering tanning beds in search of even more color. “The tanning bed sun emits 12 to 15 times the ultraviolet radiation of the sun,” warns Downie. “I have patients who say that tanning gives them a ‘base tan’ of protection. Newsflash: a base tan is literally an SPF of three.”
But while the risk of skin cancer may be the most important reason to protect against the sun, it’s often vanity that gets people to take action, says Downie. “Most people think, ‘it’ll never be me who gets cancer.’ But when you tell them, ‘it’ll be you who ages faster than your sister,’—then suddenly you get people’s attention.”
The popular quip “black doesn't crack,” may have some truth to it when it comes to wrinkling. But that higher melanin content also makes skin of color more susceptible to discoloration. “African Americans, Asians and Latinos age with patchy areas of pigmentation due to the sun’s rays, whereas signs of aging in Caucasians tend emerge as fine lines and wrinkles,” explains Downie.
Pigmentation is tricky for dermatologists to treat. Lasers may induce an inflammatory darkening response while deep peels incite similar complications. “If you wear sunscreen every day, you will age slower—and that includes ethnic skin. It’s just a fact,” says Downie.
And then there’s the chalky texture issue with many sunscreen formulas leaving pasty streaks of purple, gray or silver on dark skin. “I hear that excuse from patients all the time,” says Downie, who is herself of African American descent. “There are many micronized varieties now that apply clearly,” she adds, citing the weightless absorption of Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch SPF 85 and SkinMedica Daily Physical Defense SPF 30 as top picks among her patients of both Caucasian and ethnic backgrounds.
Whether it’s fear of melanoma or the almighty wrinkle that puts the scare of sunscreen into you, just remember: skin cancer doesn’t discriminate. We can all afford to be more aware and protected.
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