If melanin protects you from the sun, then why do people with dark skin need sunscreen at all? Dr. Ife Rodney, a board-certified dermatologist and owner of Eternal Dermatology in Maryland, broke down the science of melanin to explain why people of color aren’t immune to sun-related skin issues.
Melanin is the “skin’s defense mechanism against the sun’s harsh ultraviolet rays,” Rodney says. “When the skin is exposed to prolonged sunlight, melanocytes located in the epidermis increase melanin production. However, melanin production can take some time. If you’re in the sun for too long, you can get sunburns and sun damage before the melanin can fully protect your skin.”
She added, “We actually all have the same amount of melanocytes, but melanin production is faster in darker skin tones. That however, does not absolve us completely. POC can still develop sunburns, hyperpigmentation and even skin cancers.”
In fact, people with dark skin can even face higher rates of death from skin cancer, since “detection may be too late,” according to Rodney. “These reasons are enough to ensure that all skin colors and types use sunscreen as often as possible.”