DermQuestions: Are People With Darker Skin Less At Risk For Sun Damage?

In the 2012 song “Clique,” rapper Kanye West utters the lyrics, “Speedboat swerve, homie watch out for the waves / I’m way too black to burn from sunrays.”

It may sound like a stretch, but in their most basic form the lyrics are evidence of a long-held American myth: Dark-skinned people don’t need to wear sunscreen.

Perhaps as a result of this belief, most dark-skinned people don’t wear sunscreen. A 2009 Consumer Reports poll showed that while 67 percent of people identified as light-skinned wear sunscreen, only 27 percent of people who identify as dark-skinned admitted to wearing sunscreen regularly.

With skin cancer on the rise (the incidence of melanoma has risen by 800 percent in the last 40 years, and in the past three decades more people have had skin cancer than all other skin cancers combined), and policymakers speaking out about the importance of adequate sun protection, now is as good a time as any to debunk the myth once and for all: Are dark-skinned people less at risk for sun damage?

Watch Dr. Richard Thomas, Clinical Associate Professor of Clinical Dermatology, Department of Dermatology and Skin Science, University of British Columbia, answer the question: