Skin Cancer Awareness: People of Color


There are two dangerous myths floating around: first, that people of color can’t get skin cancer and second, that if you have darker skin then you don’t need to wear sunscreen. These are both false, so your Vitalogy Skincare Dermatologists help explain the truth about people of color and their skin.

Here are three important facts to know:

1.  People of any ethnicity can get skin cancer.

While more common in Caucasians, it does comprise 1 – 2% of malignancies in African Americans and Asian Indians and 2 – 4%  of all cancers in Chinese and Japanese Asians. These incidents are unfortunately rising, and mortality rates are disproportionately high in people with darker skin.

“Unfortunately, due to the myth that darker skin types don’t get skin cancer, it’s often diagnosed late or missed.”

Dr. Sulochana Bhandarkar of Vitalogy Skincare

2.  People of any skin tone need to wear sunscreen.

Darker skin types have more melanin in their skin, which gives them some natural sun protection compared to Caucasian skin. Experts with the Skin Cancer Foundation note that darker skin types naturally have an SPF of 13.4, compared to 3.4 of lighter skin types.

However, both lighter and darker skin types require 30 SPF to protect their skin from cancer. So, everyone should wear sunscreen no matter how light or dark their skin.

3.  Early detection is key to treating any cancer.

Bhandarkar explains, “It is often easily treatable when caught early, so it’s important to establish a treatment plan with a dermatologist and come in for any concerning lesions that are present for more than 4 – 6 weeks.”

Understanding Different Types

Squamous cell carcinoma is the most common skin cancer in African Americans and Asian Indians. It also tends to occur in different areas compared to the Caucasian population. You can often see involvement around the lower legs and in sites of chronic injury (like burn scars, lupus scars, or chronic ulcers). It tends to be more aggressive in these areas, so it’s important to be aware of the risk of this cancer in darker skin.

Basal cell carcinoma is the second most common skin cancer in people of color. It often occurs on the head and neck, so it’s a good idea to get any growing or new lesions checked out in these areas.

Melanoma is the least common but the deadliest form of skin cancer. In people of color, it tends to occur in areas which are easily missed like the mouth, palms, soles, and under the nails. So, it’s important for patients to examine these areas and visit a dermatologist if they see any dark spots or bands.

Regardless of your skin tone, be on the lookout for any changes in your skin and make an appointment today if you have any concerns.