A male construction worker with tan skin adjusts his hat in the sun while a large dark mole is highlighted on his arm

Skin Cancer Isn’t Just for the Fair-Skinned

Many of us picture skin cancer as something that affects those with fair hair and fair skin. While people with lighter pigments are at a risk, skin cancer isn’t just for the fair-skinned. In fact, everyone is at risk for skin cancer, no matter the color of your skin.

Skin cancer in those with darker skin

I’ve always known I was adopted. I have red hair and fair skin, and I freckle in the sun. It takes forever to tan and I burn easily. Yet, my father had darker, partial Native American skin. He tanned beautifully, working out in the Florida sun as a construction worker. I remember, when I was a teenager, he was often getting skin cancers removed from his face. Back then, I didn’t think much of it. It seemed like something he just had done from time to time.

Tanning was a normal part of life

Years later, I also had skin cancer on my face and had it removed twice. As a kid and teenager, we didn’t have all the information about tanning dangers like we do now. Back then, it was a part of growing up, fitting in, and enjoying the beautiful Florida sun.

What does the data say?

According to the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health:

Skin cancer is the most common malignancy in the United States and represents ~ 35–45% of all neoplasms in Caucasians, 4–5 percent in Hispanics, 2–4 percent in Asians, and 1–2 percent in Blacks. The incidence of skin cancer has been increasing among Caucasians, but remains relatively low in people of color.

What role does darker pigmentation play?

The reason those with darker skin pigment have fewer instances of skin cancer is because of more epidermal melanin, which creates a type of photo-protection. This protection filters some UV rays (ultraviolet), but not all, that cause skin damage.

Health outcomes can be poor

Here lies the problem: While people of color have fewer rates of skin cancer, the outcome is often worse. The problem is that they are often diagnosed at a more advanced stage. Public awareness of skin cancer in those with darker skin is seriously lacking.

Skin cancer isn't just for the fair-haired and fair-skinned

What's the takeaway? Yes, people with fairer skin, eyes, and hair color are more frequently diagnosed with skin cancer, but those with darker skin are at risk as well. And as was previously mentioned, diagnoses in people of color often come later than in others, which can cause problems with treatment.

Protect yourself

If you’re going to be exposed to UV light, and keep in mind that cloudy days doesn’t mean the sun won’t burn you, then you need protection. Stay in the shade, use sunscreen, and try not to be out during the worst parts of the day for UV damage: 10 AM to 4 PM.  Remember, skin cancer isn’t just for the fair-skinned.

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