Skin Cancer Prevention in Skin of Color

How is Skin Cancer Prevented in People with Skin of Color?

There is no doubt we need more research on the role of ultraviolet (UV) radiation in people with skin of color as well as other risk factors.

We know that skin cancer affects people of all races and ethnicities and that people with darker complexions can sustain sunburns. We also know that people with skin of color can sustain the effects of UV damage such as wrinkles, discoloration, and premature aging. While it is true that people with darker skin tones have more melanin in their skin that provides some natural protection against UV rays, people with skin of color still need to protect their skin.

That’s why AIM at Skin Cancer and the American Academy of Dermatology recommend that all people, regardless of skin tone, practice UV protection by following these simple guidelines:

  • Avoid direct sunlight when UV rays are strongest, typically between 10 am and 4 pm
  • Seek shade
  • Use broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher
  • Wear protective clothing
  • Wear a hat and sunglasses

Sunscreen for People with Skin of Color

Sunscreen contains one or more active ingredients (UV filters) that protect the skin from exposure to UV rays. UV filters can be classified into two groups: mineral and organic.

Mineral filters—sometimes called inorganic or physical filters—work by deflecting and reflecting UV light, preventing the UV light from hitting your skin. They are effective at protecting against both UVA and UVB radiation. The two mineral filters (active ingredients) used in U.S. sunscreen are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

Organic filters—sometimes called chemical filters—work by absorbing UV light energy. They can protect against UVA, UVB, or both. The six organic filters (active ingredients) most commonly used in U.S. sunscreens are avobenzone, homosalate, octinoxate, octisalate, octocrylene, and oxybenzone.

Broad-spectrum sunscreen has filters that protect against both UVA and UVB rays. Most U.S. sunscreens combine two or three of the above eight filters to get the best performance.

AIM at Skin Cancer believes the best sunscreen is the one you will use, so try different brands and formulations until you find the one you like and will wear. People with skin of color may have opted away from mineral filters in the past because some have a white reflection when applied; however, many tinted mineral sunscreens are now available that allow you to find a formula that blends into your skin. Look for formulas marked “tinted.”