Malignant melanoma of the skin ranks as the number one cause of death from skin cancers.
Most skin cancers are associated with ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or from tanning beds. Darker skin produces more of the skin pigment melanin that does help protect skin — but only to a certain extent. People with dark skin tones can still get sunburned, and they can also develop skin cancer from UV damage.
People who have dark skin tones often believe they’re not at risk for skin cancer, but that is a dangerous misconception.
Different ethnicities are at higher risk for particular skin malignancies: Latinos, Chinese, and Japanese Asians tend to develop basal cell carcinoma (BCC), the most common skin cancer. But the second most common, squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), is more frequent among African Americans and Asian Indians.
Anyone can get skin cancer, regardless of their complexion or race. While incidence of melanoma is higher in the Caucasian population, a July 2016 study in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology showed it is more deadly in people with dark skin tones. African American patients were most likely to be diagnosed with melanoma in its later stages than any other group in the study, and they also had the worst prognosis and the lowest overall survival rate.
For the best protection, the AAD recommends looking for sunscreens with the following terms on the label:
- Broad-spectrum: This means that the sunscreen helps protect from ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays, both of which can cause skin cancer.
- SPF 30 or Higher: This indicates how well a sunscreen protects you from sunburn. Dermatologists recommend using a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, which blocks 97% of the sun’s UVB rays (the burning rays). Higher-number SPFs block slightly more, however no sunscreen can block 100% of the sun’s UV rays.
- Water Resistant: Sunscreens can be water resistant for 40 minutes or 80 minutes. However, they are not waterproof or sweatproof and need to be reapplied every two hours when outdoors, or after swimming or sweating.