Any skin color can burn

Any skin color can burn
July 02
00:00 2015

In above photo: Ron Rogers illustration for the Chronicle

Doctors warn that African-Americans need caution in the sun, too

By Teriana Jones
For The Chronicle

It’s summertime and the Fourth of July weekend awaits. Dreams of fun in the sun abound in the minds of fun-loving Winston-Salem residents.

But doctors warn, don’t have too much fun in the sun, even those with dark skin.

“Any skin color can burn,” said Sarah Taylor, M.D., M.P.H., assistant professor of dermatology at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.

“All human skin is affected by ultraviolet (UV) light, and every day we’re bombarded by it. Even when it’s cloudy outside, there’s ultraviolet light coming through,” she said, and that goes for African-American skin, too.

“A lot of the time people don’t think African-American skin does burn or tan, but it can do both,” she said.

John Barrymore, an expert on the website, says having dark skin in the sun and heat can be an advantage and disadvantage for some people. Dark complexion people are less likely to get sunburn skin cancer. The disadvantage is, since dark skin naturally provides protection from the sun’s ultraviolet rays, the sun’s rays don’t allow dark skin to produce the right amount of Vitamin D.

When people with lighter skin spend time out in the sun, the pigment that colors the skin creates a tan, he says. People with dark skin that have olive, brown or black skin, have a high concentration of melanin in their skin. This allows them to have a natural defense against UV rays. The high concentration of melanin is responsible for dark skin and protects dark skin from burning quick. But while a higher concentration of melanin gives some sun protection, it cannot prevent skin cancer.

In her African-American patients, Taylor said, she tends to see the skin discoloration from chronic ultraviolet light exposure: Skin gets more ashy, it gets a grayish, dull, almost flaky look to it and can also have dark spots (spots that are darker than the rest of the skin).

She said she tells all her patients to apply sunscreen, SPF 30-50, to all exposed skin 20 minutes before they go outside (it takes 20 minutes for the lotion to penetrate the skin) every day no matter if it’s sunny or cloudy.

Taylor recommends wearing sun screen any time you’re outside, no matter how long you are exposed to the sun.

She also recommends wearing sunglasses to protect the eyes, a wide brimmed hat and as much clothing as you can stand along with sunscreen.

Heat can affect the entire body, not just the skin.

Roy Alson, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of emergency medicine at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, said heat can make the body’s temperature rise, and that is why people tend to get hot quick.

He said it is important to stay hydrated when you are outside in the heat to lower chance of heat stroke and dehydration. When you sweat a lot, you lose a lot of water from your body, and that causes dehydration and heat stroke. Also when you sweat and are dehydrated, you lose electrolytes, so then you have to drink a lot of water so you can cool down and replenish the electrolytes that you lost.

“When you work outside in the heat for a long period of time, you should take breaks in between your work just to make sure that you don’t over work yourself into a heat stroke or dehydration,” Alson said.

He said you should wear more light colors in the heat than dark, because dark colors absorb more visible light than light colors.

For more information visit and

About Author

Todd Luck

Todd Luck

Related Articles


Featured Sponsor

Receive Chronicle Updates

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.



More Sponsors