Sun Protection Among Racial and Ethnic Minorities

This morning, I had an interesting conversation with a beautiful friend of Lebanese background who has lovely skin that always tans. We were discussing healthy skin and sunscreen habits, and she made the comment that when she was younger, her mother told her that she didn’t need to worry about sunscreen. As her mother put it “our skin doesn’t need that.” She never sunburned, but she is now regretting the significant sun damage that her skin sustained over the decades of her youth.

An article this summer in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology reviewed sun protection among racial and ethnic minorities. The authors sent out a survey to 3665 women and 5287 men; 82% were white non-Hispanic, 11% Hispanic, 3% black non-Hispanic, 3% Asian non-Hispanic, and 1% other non-Hispanic.

The black, Asian, and Hispanic populations surveyed were less likely to use sunscreen compared to the non-Hispanic white adults. However, these 3 groups were also more likely to wear long sleeves and shelter themselves on sunny days.

The results support the previous finding that despite skin cancer being the most commonly diagnosed cancer, it is often underrecognized among members of minority populations. Additionally, morbidity and mortality of skin cancer is often greater in racial and ethnic minorities compared to white adults.

There may be underlying cultural habits, personal preferences as well as an under-appreciation of the importance of sun protection in all skin types that is responsible for the findings. As a society in the US, we are evolving towards greater awareness and better habits when it comes to sun protection. But we still have a long way to go. I’ll be the first to admit: I’m far from perfect…I’ve had more blistering sunburns than I can count in my lifetime; I used tanning beds; I rarely applied suncreen in the first 2 decades of my life. And our daughters have had sunburns in their lifetime. And they don’t always put sunscreen on before going outside. We’re pretty good about good sun protective habits, but we could be better.

As an expert in skin cancer and skin health, I have seen a significant number of skin cancer in individuals with darker skin types and ethnic minorities. Education about the importance of sun protection in all skin types is a priority among all providers in dermatology. And the responsibility lies on us to educate the next generation and establish consistent and effective sun protective habits.

McKenzie C, Kundu RV. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2019 June 19.

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