The Danger of Sunburn on Brown Skin

Proper Skin CareA lot is written on proper skin care and how to protect against the harmful rays of the sun; what is often implied in these musings as well is that skin cancer is a concern primarily of those with fair skin. The truth could not be further off base. Just because a skin tone naturally contains more melanin does not mean it is risk free from skin cancer.

An increase of skin pigmentation does add protection against the UV rays of the sun, but it is not a shield. Those with brown skin must also use proper skin care products to guard against sunburn damage; the use of SPF sunscreen when sun bathing and swimming is mandatory. It is actually more important to avoid sunburn on brown skin, as it is oftentimes much more difficult in the long run to identify and treat skin issues caused by excessive sun, such as subtle changes in moles. This difficulty in diagnosis often delays a skin cancer diagnoses in those from African-American, Asian, Latino, and Native American backgrounds, which increases the morbidity and mortality rates for several types of skin cancer in comparison to their white counterparts.

Skin Care Guidelines Recommended by The American Academy of Dermatology

  • Reduce the likelihood of sunburn on brown skin by avoiding outdoor activities between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.; this is when the sun’s rays are the strongest.
  • Practice proper skin care by using a sunscreen of SPF15 or higher and sun-protective clothing and accessories, such as wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses.
  • Know the “shadow rule” – if your shadow is shorter than you are, avoid sunbathing or extensive unprotected outside activity as this is the time the sun’s damaging rays are at their strongest and should be avoided.

Other Skin Care Guidelines

As with any regular sun aficionado, people with brown skin must also practice natural body care by paying attention to their skin and any changes that occur. Be proactive and get to know your skins anomalies. Identify any moles or other markings and track their behavior or any sudden changes. Pay attention to the palms of your hands, the soles of your feet or any other area of your body that is usually outside of direct sun rays for any new moles or markings.

As you practice proper skin care you will start to get to know your existing moles and birthmarks. As you get more comfortable with your skin, there is no need to overreact as you notice subtle differences. You should look for the following and if identified see your physician for a more thorough exam.

  • Asymmetry – Moles are normally symmetrical, so abnormally shaped moles should be checked by a doctor.
  • Border irregularity – Rough, raised, or uneven borders may be characteristics of cancerous cells and should be evaluated.
  • Color variations – Most moles are one color, mottled, or multicolor moles can signify something more serious.
  • Diameter – Any mole with a diameter larger than 6 mm should be examined.


Be aware that there is very limited research on the cancerous effects of sunburn damage on brown skin. Very little literature available to healthcare professionals on the different ways skin cancer can manifest itself in darker skin.  Therefore, it is imperative that you do your research and find a physician familiar with the unique characteristics of darker skin and best skin care products and skin care treatments available.

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