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Here's What People Of Color Need To Know About Sunburn And Skin Cancer

You can get both.

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1. You can get sunburned.

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There has been much debate in communities of color on whether brown people can or cannot get sunburned, so BuzzFeed Life consulted with board-certified dermatologist Dr. Jeanine Downie to set the record straight: "Anybody with skin can get sunburned," she says. "It's a total fallacy to think black people can't get burned."

2. Even if you don't see the visible signs commonly associated with sunburn, your skin can still be damaged.

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Sun damage on white people and people of color may manifest differently, but all people can be at risk if the proper steps to protect their skin are not taken. Over time, white people will often see fine lines and wrinkles, Downie explains. People of color, however, may start seeing dark spots, which the doctor calls patchy dyspigmentation. She says that both cases are secondary to sun damage.

3. Which means people of color can also get skin cancer from the sun.

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It's true. "Most skin cancers are associated with ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or tanning beds," according to Dr. Maritza Perez, director of cosmetic dermatology at St. Luke's Roosevelt Medical Center and an expert for Skin Cancer Foundation.

Because brown people have more melanin, they are less likely than white people to get skin cancer this way — but it's still possible.

4. You should always wear a sun protectant, even in cold seasons, and the label should read "UVA/UVB protection."

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UVA and UVB rays "penetrate the atmosphere and play an important role in conditions such as premature skin aging, eye damage (including cataracts), and skin cancers," according to Skin Cancer Foundation.

Nothing completely blocks out the sun, so there is no significant difference between sunblock or sunscreen, Downie tells us. Just make sure that whatever you use protects you from both UVA and UVB rays.

5. There's never a valid excuse to forgo sunscreen.

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Because the sun is a strong source of vitamin D, people who have a deficiency may skip sunscreen to soak up the rays. But that's NOT a reason to go without sun protection.

"We can get a lot of vitamin D from our diet," Downie says. Oily fishes like salmon, vitamin D-fortified dairy products, and supplements are all viable options to nourish your body. "You do not, under any circumstances, need to be exposing your skin to the sun for vitamin D."

7. Get an oil-free sunblock to avoid a dusty or filmy layer atop the skin.

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Formulas that are white in color will make you look purple or gray, Downie warns. Solutions should contain micronized forms of zinc or titanium dioxide because they'll rub into the skin better and won't leave a ghostly finish.

Her favorite is Daily Physical Defense by SkinMedica. It's PABA free, has an SPF of 30, and it won't block your pores. She also recommends Aveeno and Neutrogena products.

8. You should be reapplying sun protection multiple times throughout the day.

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Apply sunscreen every morning before leaving the house, and as you're leaving your office for lunch, give yourself a second application.

For activities that require you to be outside longer — like if you're at a baseball game — Downie recommends reapplying every two hours. Sunscreen should also be reapplied after "swimming, toweling off, or sweating a great deal," according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

9. Basal Cell Carcinoma is the most common skin cancer in Hispanic, Chinese, and Japanese people, according to Skin Cancer Foundation (SCF).

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The SCF reveals that BCCs are "abnormal, uncontrolled growths or lesions that arise in the skin's basal cells, which line the deepest layer of the epidermis (the outermost layer of the skin)." Many times they look like "pen sores, red patches, pink growths, shiny bumps, or scars" and are typically caused by cumulative sun exposure.

BCCs rarely matastesize (spread) or lead to death, but Downie tells BuzzFeed Life that they erode the area on which they're present and create holes in the skin.

10. Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) is the most common skin cancer among African Americans and Asian Indians, reports the SCF.

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SCCs, which are directly from sun damage, can spread and kill you, Downie tells us.

According to the SCF, Squamous Cell Carcinoma "is an uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells arising in the squamous cells, which compose most of the skin's upper layers (the epidermis)." The cancer looks like scaly red patches, open sores, elevated growths with a central depression, or warts on the skin. They can also crust or bleed.

11. It should also be noted that the sun is not the only cause of skin cancer.

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One form of skin cancer not linked to sun exposure, for example, is acral lentiginous melanoma (ALM), also known as subungual melanoma. ALM "occurs on non hair-bearing surfaces of the body which may or may not be exposed to sunlight," like the palms, soles, or under the toenail, according to Melanoma Research Foundation.

12. More African Americans, Asians, and Latino people die of melanoma than white Americans.

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The American Cancer Society reports, "Melanoma is a cancer that begins in the melanocytes." Melanomas on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, and under the nails account for more than half of all melanoma cases in African Americans, as compared to fewer than 1 in 10 among white Americans.

People of color are more likely to die from melanoma cancers because they are underdiagnosed. This is partly because "racial and ethnic minorities are less likely to have health insurance, so they may not see a doctor regularly," according to the CDC. "People who see a doctor regularly are more likely to get cancer screening tests."

"And even when we [people of color] go to doctors, we get misdiagnosed," Downie says. That's because even medical professionals are less likely to think they have skin cancers.

13. Going to see a board-certified dermatologist once a year for a full-body scan can potentially detect skin cancer in its early stages and save your life.

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It's critical to visit a board-certified dermatologist — not a general practice or family doctor — for matters relating to the skin. A doctor who doesn't specialize in skin may miss warning signs of skin diseases or misdiagnose them.

"One woman, years ago when I trained at Mt. Sinai in Manhattan, had a melanoma on her toenail, but somebody told her it was dirt," Downie says. By the time the patient was correctly diagnosed, her toe had to be surgically removed. While losing a toe wasn't an ideal outcome, she still addressed the cancer in time before it took her life, Downie says.

14. Start doing full-body checks with a dermatologist in your late teens or sooner if you have a lot of moles.

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If you see a few moles on your child that look odd, take them to a board-certified dermatologist for a screening. It's never too early.

15. Most important, know that preventative measures can significantly reduce the risk of both sunburn and skin cancer.

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Remember to apply sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, even in the cooler months, and visit a board-certified dermatologist once a year.

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