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You may have been made to believe that because you have dark skin your risk of getting melanoma is very low. Melanoma is the most severe type of skin cancer. Although it is common in people with fair skin, dark skinned people are not immune to it. This is so because, contrary to popular belief, people among the multicultural community do get burned from exposure to sun rays and all the skin dangers associated with sun exposure are also common to darker skinned people. To help you get a better idea of how this can be true, let’s take a look at the sun rays and how it affects our body. Then we’ll also look at melanin and the role it has to play in sun protection.
The ultraviolet rays from the sun are made up of long and short wavelength rays. Note that not all the sun’s rays reach the earth. Of those that do reach the earth, UVA is the ray with the long wavelength and UVB is the ray with the short wavelength. Ultraviolet rays being photocarcinogenic easily penetrates keratinocytes which make up the top level of the skin. The UVA rays having long wavelength will travel deeper into the skin interfering with the DNA process which may eventually cause some cells to become cancerous resulting in the deadly condition known as melanoma.
Although melanin will act as a photoprotector especially in skin of color that has a high concentration of this pigment, the UVA rays will still be able to penetrate deep into the skin. The melanin will be able to dissipate the radioactive effect of the UVB rays which lead to sun burn but it may not be so effective when it comes to UVA rays. That is why it is recommended that despite your skin type; sun protection should be used at all times. Some people will argue that they don’t need sun protection because they don’t walk or work underneath the sun. However, it may be important to know that UVA rays will penetrate glass into buildings.
The cumulative effect of long years of exposing your body to the sun will result in skin disorders. When the skin is exposed to too much sunlight, the melanocytes begin to grow abnormally making the cells to become cancerous. Most commonly signs of melanoma will occur in the upper body in men and on the legs in women. However, in dark skin people it may show in the palms and soles of the feet. This is a serious condition that needs to be detected and treated in the early stages of the infection. If left untreated, it may spread to other body parts through metastasis and when this happens it becomes difficult to treat.
As discussed, everybody is at risk of developing melanoma no matter the age or race. However, this condition can be prevented if the right sun protection methods are used. It is advisable to always wear sunscreen whether you are dark skin or fair skin. Obviously the sun rays know no race or gender!