While the rates of skin cancer, especially malignant, in skin of colour is low compared to Caucasian, the mortality and morbidity rates for the same is higher – which, as Black Skin Directory (BSD) founder and aesthetician Dija Ayodele rightly points out, isn’t something many people are aware of.
So BSD are now spearheading a much-needed new Sun Awareness Campaign – supported by Ultrasun UK – which focuses on the danger the sun presents to dark skin specifically, to raise awareness of the need for sun protection and education among this demographic.
Despite skin colour, the BSD explain that all ethnicities have the same number of cells producing the pigment melanin, but in skin of colour, melanosomes are bigger and more evenly distributed through the epidermis compared to pale skin. It’s the melanosomes that allow darker skin tones to filter almost double the amount of UVB than Caucasian skin can absorb, giving darker skin tones a natural sun protection factor (SPF) of about 13. This is why skin of colour is less prone to sun-induced skin cancer than Caucasian skin tones.
The problem is, however, that while melanomas are rare among the non-white population, they are often diagnosed at an advanced stage, which invariably leads to a poor prognosis. Inner London based NHS England consultant dermatologist Mary Sommerlad remarks:
“in my experience, there is a lack of education and awareness at all levels. At one end there are black people coming to clinic unaware that their freckles (more visible in lighter skin or those of mixed heritage) and increased pigmentation in sun exposed areas are associated with sun induced damage; and at the other end we have GPs and dermatology trainees lacking awareness about skin cancer in darker skin tones. Consequently, black patients very rarely get referred to dermatology as a two week wait referral for suspected skin cancer, even when they’ve presented with deeply suspicious lesions”
The respected Black Skin Directory, launched in 2018, is committed to drive education on this issue alongside key stakeholders and medical professionals.