Top 5 Tanning Myths

People with Darker-toned Skin Don't Have to Worry About Sun Damage

Not necessarily. Skin color is determined by the amount of melanin in the epidermis, or the outer layer of the skin. Melanin helps protect the skin against the effects of the sun such as skin cancer and premature aging. In African-American skin, melanin provides an SPF approximately equal to 13.4, compared to 3.4 in white skin. This variance explains why skin cancer is more common in Caucasians, whose light skin color and low presence of melanin makes them more susceptible to sun damage.

Although melanin provides some sun protection, even olive or darker toned skins can burn after a long day in the sun or show signs of skin damage over time (wrinkles, sunspots and blotchiness). And skin cancer is also a risk: It makes up 2 to 4 percent of all cancers among Chinese and Japanese Asians, and 1 to 2 percent of malignancies in African-Americans and Asian-Indians, and the statistics are rising.

Melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, occurs in all races. One type of melanoma, acral lentiginous melanoma (ALM), is responsible for 50 percent of all melanomas in dark skin. ALM is called a "hidden" melanoma because it develops in places that are not easy to examine: the palms and soles, underneath nails, and on mucous membranes, such as those that line the mouth and nose. In its early stages, ALM is often overlooked because it looks like a bruise or nail streak. Bob Marley, the reggae legend, died from melanoma that was discovered on his foot, but not before it had spread to other parts of his body and become incurable.