NEW YORK – Do you have darker skin? If so, skin cancer might not be top of mind as a significant health threat, but beware – just because your skin is darker does not mean you are immune to skin cancer. Thanks to objective methods to measure skin color[1] developed by L’Oreal Research & Innovation, L’Oreal, has been able to demonstrate that sun exposure risks affect all skin types and skin colors[2]. This is why it’s important for everyone to be vigilant about their sun protection. Skin cancer does not discriminate; it occurs in all populations, regardless of skin color.

“The lack of skin cancer recognition in patients of color is a problem and poses a serious health threat if left untreated,” said Dr. Wendy Roberts, Medical Director of Desert Dermatology Skin Institute in Rancho Mirage, California. “When detected early, skin cancer is highly curable. That’s why people of color need to be aware of their risk and be vigilant about protecting their skin from the sun, as well as seeking help with skin lesions that do not heal.”

Still not convinced that skin cancer in skin of color is a real health concern? Here are the facts:

  • A recent epidemiological review published by the American Academy of Dermatology[3] showed that the five-year survival rates for African-Americans (78 percent) is significantly lower than that of Caucasians (92 percent)
  • Studies reveal that the incidence of melanoma is increasing in Hispanics of Puerto Rican and Mexican descent
  • Ultraviolet radiation still remains one of the most important factors contributing to the risk of developing a skin carcinoma among all skin phenotypes

“Many patients think that non-Caucasian people are immune to skin cancer. That is one reason people of color are diagnosed at later stage, meaning that skin cancers are often advanced and potentially fatal,” said Dr. Mona Gohara, Assistant Clinical Professor, Department of Dermatology, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT.

Because of the common misconceptions about darker skin and skin cancer, studies consistently show that people of color are more likely to wait until the disease has reached an advanced stage to visit the dermatologist, or worse, don’t visit the dermatologist at all. One recent study found that non-white patients were more likely to have advanced and thicker melanoma at diagnosis and lower survival compared with white patients[1].

Darker skin does offer some increased protection against ultraviolet radiation, as people with dark skin have a higher melanin and eumelanin (brown-black pigment) content, which in turn reduces the risk of skin cancer induced by ultraviolet radiation from sun exposure.

However there is considerable skin color heterogeneity among people of color. Considering this, inherent sun protection within people of color varies a lot depending on skin color types and many people aren’t even aware of the risks. Recent surveys show that:

  • 65 percent of minority respondents felt they were not at risk for skin cancer[4]
  • 62 percent of African-American adult respondents have never worn sunscreen[5]
  • 31 percent of minority respondents have performed a self skin check[6]
  • 17 percent of minority respondents have gotten a skin check by a dermatologist[4]
  • 3.4 percent increase in incidence of melanoma among Hispanic women in Florida[7]

Need more proof? The study from L’Oreal Research & Innovation demonstrated that the highest risk of DNA damages was in light to tan skin, which includes most Hispanics and some African-Americans. As such, there is a need to educate people with skin of color about the risks of sun exposure and proper sunscreen use.

L’Oreal is dedicated to educating people about the risks and providing a superior line of sun protection products. “By the year 2050, it is projected that more than half of the US population will be comprised of what is considered today as ethnic minorities,” stated Dr. Michele Verschoore, Medical Director, L’Oreal Research and Innovation. “As experts in photoprotection, it is important for us to increase the awareness of the fact that people of color are not immune to skin cancer.” L’Oreal has gathered new relevant data on skin cancer and sun protection in skin of color which will be sent to all US dermatologists.

For more than thirty years, L’Oreal has been involved in photoprotection research, establishing itself as an expert in the field. With more than 160 scientific publications on the topic of photoprotection, the research conducted by L’Oreal has contributed to a better understanding of the molecular and biological effects of ultraviolet radiation on skin, which in turn has led the company to develop safe and efficient sun protection products.

[1] Chardon A, et al. Skin color typology and suntanning pathways. Int J Cosmet Sci 1991; 13: 191-208

[2] Del Bino S, et al. Relationship between skin response to UV exposure and skin color type. Pigment Cell Res 2006;19:606-14

[3] Wu XC, et al. Racial and ethnic variations in incidence and survival of cutaneous melanoma in the United States, 1999-2006. J Am Acad Dermatol 2011;65:S26-37

[4] Kim, M et al. Perceptions of Skin Cancer Risk Among Those With Ethnic Skin. ARCH DERMATOL/ VOL 145 (NO. 2), FEB 2009

[5] Pichon, L, PhD, et al. Sun Protection Behaviors Among African Americans. Am J Prev Med 2010;38(3):288 –295

[6] Imahiyerobo-Ip, MD,et al. Skin Cancer in Communities Of Color. J Am Acad Dermatol. January 2011

[7] Hu S, et al . Disparity in melanoma : a trend analysis of melanoma incidence and stage at diagnosis among whites, Hispanics and blacks in Florida. Arch Dermatol 2009;145:1369-74