Dispelling the Myth: Black People DO Sunburn

June 21, 2010


We've done posts on using sunscreen before, but I must admit, we really didn't take it seriously. It was simply a warning because, frankly, that's what we always hear. Now, I've known that black people too, are at risk for skin cancer, but I can't say that I honestly knew why or how it happened. On top of that, I've NEVER heard of a black person, especially someone with a darker complexion, such as myself, getting sunburned. That was until, the husband and I went on our honeymoon to the Dominican Republic. Naturally we spent a great deal of time on the beach, in the ocean and at the pool. But, most of the days were cloudy. Before the trip I had strategically put "sunblock" on my Target shopping. So, before we hit the beach, pool, etc., I leisurely dabbed the sunblock on more worried about how it might make me break out rather than how effective it would be in protecting me from the sun's rays. After ensuring I was somewhat protected, I'd offer some to my new husband who declared "Black people don't get sunburned."It was the day before we were to leave that it all happened. We took a 2 hour boat ride to a remote island in the Caribbean Sea, spent another 2 hours playing in turquoise waters and white sands and one more hour on a speed boat back to Punta Cana. That day, I believe I put on sunscreen once. The next morning, I woke up with a swollen lip and a my stomach and shoulders were on fire. I was convinced Kris had slipped me a mickey, but after realizing we were married, I decided there really wasn't a need for that. I was forced to walk around with a swollen lip and a burning body. At that point I was still in denial that the sun could possibly be the culprit. That was until I started peeling in the days afterward. I'm still shedding a bit and needless to say, I myself, have dispelled the myth that African-Americans don't get sunburned. As if the sun gods needed to reinforce its seriousness, I recently watched a special on the Today's Show about the increase of melanoma among Americans. I decided to do a little more research and found that more than we think, just like sunburns, we're at risk for skin cancer too. According to the American Cancer Society, "Skin cancer is the most common of all cancers. Melanoma accounts for less than 5% of skin cancer cases. But it causes most skin cancer deaths" and "overall, the lifetime risk of getting melanoma is about 1 in 50 for whites, 1 in 1,000 for blacks, 1 in 200 for Hispanics." Unfortunately, blacks are usually diagnosed later than whites. Even world-renowned reggae artist, Bob Marley, died from an aggressive and deadly form of the disease. In an article, "Melanoma Deadlier in Blacks: Early Detection is Key to Survival, "African Americans need to know that along with looking for the usual changes in moles on sun exposed areas, darker-skinned individuals should also have their palms and soles checked on a regular basis." In a NPR radio interview with Ed Gordan and John McCann, columnist from the Herald Sun in Durham, North Carolina, McCann speaks candidly about skin cancer myths and the African-American community.
"See, we've got grown folks using Baby Magic to make their skin feel like a one-year-old's. There's that thick, Keri lotion for those with real ashy knees and elbows. Or if you're skin is really dry, there's that Palmer's Cocoa Butter that comes in a jar, and you don't squeeze it out, but you dip your fingers in and scoop it and slap it on. Or maybe you're one of those people who put baby oil on like you're planning to go out in the sun and sauté yourself. Yet talk to a brother or a sister girl about using sunscreen and they're like, what're you telling me about sunscreen for? I ain't white. But let me tell you what the people at the American Cancer Society told me. Black folks get sunburned too. You know how you can be out I the sun for a minute and you come back in and your auntie or your cousin or somebody will say, woo, child, you done got black! It means you've been sunburned. Instead of turning red like fairer-skinned people, dark-complexioned folks get blacker."
Touche. So, this summer, please, please, please take the extra steps to protect yourself. Although I feel like I'm suddenly sounding like a contraceptive commercial, protection and early detection is key. Here's a few tips.... Don't be ASHamed, slather it on Doctor's recommend a nickel-sized amount for your face and two shot-glasses-worth for your body. Keep in mind you should slather it on EVERYWHERE even if you are wearing a swim suit. And you should do so at least 20 minutes before you venture out into the sun (Or clouds for that matter. Just because the sun isn't out, doesn't mean it's not there.) Just reminisce on how your mom used to oil you down your knees and elbows when you were young. Do it again....and again....and again Just because you put it on once, doesn't mean your immune for the rest of the day. You should reapply at least every 90 minutes. And, like the genius I know you are, you'll definitely want to reapply after you take a dip in the pool or ocean. Yup, EVERYTIME! There's a formula to it. UVA. UVB. Blah. Blah. Blah. I was never a fan of science, but turns out this is a science lesson you don't want to miss. It's important that you ensure you have the correct formula of sunscreen. UVA rays are responsible for the aging effect of the sun; however, overexposure to UVB rays can cause skin cancer so you'll want to buy something with "UVA/UVB" with "broad-spectrum" protection. You'll also want to choose an SPF of about 30 or more. The SPF gives you an idea of how long you can stay in the sun without burning. For example, if you use an SPF of 30, you can stay outside 30 times longer without burning. I recommend Aveeno Continuous Protection Sunblock Face Lotion SPF 30 - 3 oz and Aveeno Continuous Protection Sunblock Spray - 5.0 oz. You may be extra sensitive If being a girl wasn't hard enough, certain medications such as birth control, certain antibiotics, blood pressure medicine can make you super sensitive to the sun and up your vulnerability. And before you go crazy on margaritas, certain foods such as limes, lemons, celery, carrots, figs, parsley, parsnips and other vegetables that contain furocoumarins may also cause you to be sensitive. The sun interacts with these chemicals and causes blotchy dark spots that take months to fade. Don't Forget Your Smoocher Remember the whole swollen lip thing? Turns out my lip was sunburned. Yikes is right. Be sure to use a lip gloss with SPF, as well as a sunscreen lip balm. It, too, should be reapplied regularly. Try Banana Boat Sport Performance Sunscreen Lip Balm SPF 50 .15 oz (4.25 g). ....And if you DO get burned..... Accidents are bound to happen, so if you do get burned find the nearest aloe vera plant and reapply, reapply, reapply. This will help heal the damaged skin without leaving scarring. Also, be sure you keep your skin moisturized to help prevent peeling. My favorite lotion? Cetaphil Moisturizing Lotion, Fragrance Free - 16 fl oz.

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