People often think that dark skin is immune to the damaging rays of sun. While lighter complexioned types have been proven to be more susceptible to skin cancers and legions, we should all be vigilant when it comes to sun protection. Intense sun means greater exposure to UV rays. UV or Ultraviolet (UV) light is electromagnetic radiation, which is a wavelength shorter than that of visible light, and is invisible to most human eyes. Hence, the reason why damage to skin only shows up after repeated and prolonged exposure. While sunlight is the main origin of UV rays, other sources include tanning beds and lamps.
Individuals who are exposed to these sources are at greater risk for skin cancer. Incidentally, only a small portion of Ultra violet rays contribute to the sun rays, but they are responsible for damaging effects of the sun on the skin. Ultra Violet rays damage the DNA of skin cells. Cancers become a reality when the damage goes to the DNA of the genes which control skin cell growth, causing a proliferation of bad cells. Left unchecked, or failure to respond to treatment can result in death.
The areas closer to the equator experience the strongest UV rays, as we move closer to both North and South poles the rays get weaker. People who are darker skinned, have long been thought to be superior to those with paler skin, when it comes to withstanding the sun. However, studies have shown that even though there might be some initial advantage, black people are not immune to skin cancer. There are three main types of UV rays: UVA, UVB and UVC. “UVA rays age skin cells and can damage their DNA. These rays are linked to long-term skin damage such as wrinkles, but they are also thought to play a role in some skin cancers,” www.Cancer. Org. As I write this article, I’m reminded of my youth in Dominica. Sometimes to raise funds for a particular cause, groups or schools will walk for charity. Often referred to as a Belle Marche, we walked for the whole day.
When I grew up, sunscreen and skin protection was not a top priority. Imagine my annoyance, when at the end of the day, my nose began to burn and itch, because of my exposure to the Caribbean sun, my nose had burnt to a crisp. In the next few days, the skin shed and renewed itself, it was my first sunburn. I’ve experienced it again, but not in such a dramatic fashion. It was not supposed to happen though, because I’m dark skinned.
Human beings get their skin color from Melanin, derived from the amino acid Tyrosine. Melanin is responsible for skin and hair color and is present in varying degrees depending on our ancestor’s history of sun exposure. Tyrosine is actually found in special cells, and people who lack these develop albinism, a complete or partial absence of pigmentation in the skin. Many types of Melanin occur, but Eumelanin, found in the hair, skin and dark areas around the nipples is responsible for dark pigmentation, and is abundant in black populations. Sun damage is directly related to how much time we are exposed to UV rays. While sunscreens, hats and sunglasses go some ways towards protection, we should be mindful always of our health and safety.