Skin, UV and the Melanin inbetween

So as most people that know me know, I am pretty strict when it comes to protecting my skin and my family’s from the harmful rays that shower us all year round. As my annual skin check approaches, I thought it fitting to cover I wasn’t always this way, and perhaps I have already done more damage than good, but these days I am obsessive and I think for good reason.  At 31, I have yearly checks like everyone else to keep an eye on my moles, freckles, and any signs of melanoma in my nails, the palm of my hands and under my feet. You see at my very first skin check, I found out that people of african racial ethnicity  and people with dark skin can get skin cancer too! While the percentage is not as high as those with fair skin, the mortality rate was higher in those with dark skin because it was usually found late by which point likely spread.  You see some people with dark skin and some doctors neglect skin checks because they are not aware that  melanomas can accure among people with dark skin especially those of African racial ethnicity. So in celebration of my up coming annual skin check, I thought I would nag on the importance of protecting your skin whiles still getting the much needed Vitamin D needed.

So a little history….

I spent some of my early years in West Africa, you can imagine how hot it is.  I also spent a lot of visits at the doctor for sore skin and peeling skin, all of which was put down to sensitivity to the  water and some soaps and creams. You see my whole life, I had been getting sunburns and no one realized, not even me!  Why, well because I grew up thinking I was blessed with the gift of melanin and therefore immune from all things related to sunburns, I spent many hours in the sun in my teen years basking in the golden californian sun hoping for that exotic dark complexion with nothing to show but uneven skin tones, moles and sore peeling skin. Since high school, I have been careful with my sun exposure, and life has been wonderful. I stopped peeling, the scabs ceased but the countless moles and freckles on my face and body are a constant reminder of the damage I have caused. Since my teens I have only had 2 major sunburns, both of which were due to my own lack of discipline and over exposure to way too much sun.

Understanding UVA, UVB and Melanin 

So the long and short of it. UVA as I understand it cause oxidative damage to the skin sells DNA. It’s the one that gives you that instant tan on the same day you have been out in the sun and than fades a few days later. It can penetrate glass so don’t think you will be safe from it in the car or in the office whiles you stare out the window. The problem with UVA is that you can’t tell when you are reaching damaging levels because unlike UVB there is no evidence of burning or redness. Thats right folks, fair skin or dark skin you won’t know when you have reached your maximum levels unless you start to show a temp tan which fades after 1 – 2 days which by than is really too late. UVA is also the cause of skin aging. In those with fair skin it might look like wrinkles, sun spots, freckles, and in those with dark skin you might notice an increase in facial moles, darker patches of skin on the neck, forehead and other parts of the body, and  uneven skin tone. And while Dermatosis Papulosa Nigra is common and hereditary in those with dark skin, it can also a sign of skin damage. UVA goes deep in the layers of the skin, and can penetrate through the leaves of trees. There is no hiding from it.


UVB is what my husband frequently gets exposed to and often quickly reaches his capacity as his skin reddens because he lazily applied his sunscreen with one giant sweep missing everywhere except his nose checks and forearms. Often under the misconception that applying sunscreen is only for days you go to the beach or at bbqs at the park, and that when applied it last the whole day! We are all guilty of not re applying after 2 hrs or after a swim, and thinking that skin cancer is an old age thing, but who really wants to get skin cancer in their old age? Really, who?


So how does this tie to people with dark skin and wearing sunblock? Well it’s simple, people with dark skin, and that is anyone that has olive skin and darker have higher levels of spf protection naturally in their skin, but still not enough to protect from skin damage or developing skin cancer, with the max level being spf 13 in very dark african skin. Now not every dark skin person has a level of spf 13 protection so we need sun screen to help protect our skin from prolonged exposure, that being 2 hrs or more in the sun. Yes people in africa and other hot countries live without sunscreen and are fine. That’s because all countries don’t all have the same UV readings.In some parts of world. UV readings do not exceed 6 or even 8. However other places have how levels at 9 and up. Most people with dark skin that live in hot countries wear clothing that cover up their bodies, and seek shade from the sun during the hottest part of the day which gives them some protection from sun damage, however, for those of us that live in northern climates  we have taken to soaking up the sun’s rays in summer to make up for the long winter ahead and synthesis of Vit D. After all it’s only 3 months of sun how much damage can you make? Just remember wearing sunscreen will not stop the warmth of the sun from soothing your skin so, put it on.


at last skin check, 4 of these dark moles were of concern. Not a problem if it stays as it is. If it starts to change than, well, it’s a problem

What I have learnt about UVRs, Melanin, skin and skin cancers

1) People with brown skin to very dark skin can get skin cancer too, and have a higher mortality rate due to late diagnosis

2) Those with fair skin can get their daily dose of Vitamin D with 10 -15mins of sun exposure

3) Those with dark skin need almost 2hrs in the sun to get their daily dose of Vitamin D due to melanin blocking UV

4) Between 10am – 4pm, after 8-15mins without sunscreen or protective clothing for those with fair skin and 2hrs of sun      exposure for those the dark skin ; in regions with high UV reading you are all all in danger!

5) There is a daily forecast for UV

6) UVA can penetrate glass

7) UVA and UVB penetrates clothing. More for light clothing and less for dark clothing. A catch 22 I know since wearing dark clothes will make you hot and cause you to wear less layers. Ahh

8) UVA causes skin aging so protecting your skin with sunscreen or shade will help keep those wrinkles at bay.

9) Skin cell damage and not just sun exposure is what activates more melanin production. So the next time you find a tan line, know that you had to damage your skin for that to happen.

10) Get your Vitamin D between 7am and 10am or 4:30 pm – till the sun sets. That is more than enough time for all skin tones to get exposure without sun protection without causing damage. It is always a good idea to check your cities UV forecast just incase.

Now go book your skin check because living naturally means naturally looking after yourself outside and in.



2 thoughts on “Skin, UV and the Melanin inbetween

  1. Nice post Zoe, always a welcome reminder. One of my school friends died recently from melanoma at age 37, it is far too often a young person’s disease. Now, how about a post about which sunscreen to use! The only safe ones that I have found without nasty chemicals or nano zinc are super greasy.

    • So sorry that you lost a friend to melanoma. This is why I think it is soo important for everyone to get checked. I think a lot of young adults see it as something you get when you are old and so they don’t seem to worry, but it’s not. I have a follow up on choosing the right sunscreen coming up, I hope I can put something on the list that will work for you and the family.

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