Dare to Ask: Do African-Americans sunburn?
By Phillip Milano
The Florida Times-Union
Do African-Americans sunburn, and if so, how might it be possible to tell? --
Jeff S., 31, white, Bremerton, Wash.
LOL, yeah, black people do burn. My mom and I are very dark. She burned and
didn't know what was going on. She went through emergency, and they told her she
was burned. When I burned, I didn't panic. I just broke out the aloe. We both
have to wear sunblock, though. -- Duane, black, Washington, D.C.
We can be albino and blue-black and all the colors in between. The fairer the
skin, the more propensity to burn when out in the sun. ... I'm medium brown and
my father is two to three shades darker. If out in the sun too long, he burns.
I've never gotten sunburned -- but I do freckle! -- Kim, black, Minneapolis
Because I'm somewhat fair-skinned, I don't tan well, I burn, and it looks
just like when white people get sunburn: red and maybe blistery. The black
people I know who are a good amount darker than I am tend to tan rather than
burn. -- Jessica, 28, black, Cincinnati
Don't get in a pink fit over whether blacks can get red the way whites do. It
happens, but in a blue moon.
Surveys in 2004 analyzed by the Centers for Disease Control showed that 47
percent of white men and 40 percent of white women reported getting sunburned in
the past year. The figures for other racial and ethnic groups: Hispanic blacks
-- 12.4 percent of men, 9.5 percent of women; Asians/Pacific Islanders -- 16.2
percent of men, 16.1 percent of women; American Indians/Alaska Natives -- 30.4
percent of men, 21.5 percent of women; and non-Hispanic blacks -- 5.8 percent of
both men and women.
"When I interact with [darker-skinned] patients, they're surprised to learn
they can indeed burn," said dermatologist Susan C. Taylor, founder of
BrownSkin.net. "But when they think about it, many report, 'Yeah, when I was in
Florida or the Caribbean, or in extreme sunlight, I did get a sunburn.' "
The issue often is lack of awareness, she said.
"They can see it and feel it -- many people say you can't see the red in
black skin, well ... of course you can tell it's red. It will be red and tender,
but they might pass it off not knowing it's sunburn."
Studies show that on average, African-Americans have a natural Sun Protection
Factor (SPF) of about 13, higher than lighter-skinned people due to the level of
melanin in their skin, Taylor said.
So, while many paler folks might need a sunscreen with a 30 SPF (recommended
by the American Academy of Dermatology), darker-skinned people may need a
sunscreen of only about 15 SPF, she added.
"It's important for people of all skin tones to wear sunscreen because of the
possibility of burning," Taylor said. "Also, people with darker tones can be
troubled by dark marks, known as hyperpigmentation, and often those will darken
with sun exposure."
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Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee),
moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's
Differences. Visit www.yforum.com to submit questions and answers. Send general
column comments to email@example.com. You can also hear his
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