Anyone who has pale or freckly skin has probably heard their fair share of warnings to stay out of the sun.  So are some skin types and tones really more inclined to develop skin cancers than others? As it turns out, the answer is yes.

Are fair skinned people more likely to get skin cancer?

If you have fair skin, light-coloured eyes or red or light hair, unfortunately you are more likely to have skin that is sensitive to the sun’s ultraviolet rays[1] than someone with deeper coloured skin. The extra melanin in darker skin provides some protection against damaging UV radiation[2] – although it is still entirely possible to develop melanoma on dark skin.

The following chart displays how UV radiation tends to affect different natural skin tones, and how high your relative risk of skin cancer could be with overexposure.

skinchart

Just because skin cancer is rarer in some skin types than others, that doesn’t mean anyone is immune. It’s important to apply high SPF sunscreen and wear sun protective clothing when out in the sun to minimise your exposure to UV radiation.

Are people with freckles really more likely to get skin cancer?

Chances are, you probably need to be very aware of skin cancer if you have a lot of freckles. These small spots tend to develop on paler skin in response to exposure to UV light. People who have lots of moles through sun exposure should also exercise caution, as they tend to be more at risk of developing skin cancers1. If you are genetically predisposed to skin cancers then this is another increase in risk worth being aware of.

What does skin cancer look like on darker skin?

Skin cancers and melanomas on dark skin look very much the same as on lighter toned skin, but changes can be harder to detect. In fact, skin cancers are often detected at a more advanced stage for this skin type1. No matter what your skin tone is, it’s important to remember to regularly check for any weeping, pale, darker, red, itchy or lumpy changes to your skin, and to schedule skin cancer checks with a SunDoctors clinic in your area.

[1] http://www.sunsmart.com.au/skin-cancer/risk-factors

[2] Brenner, M., & Hearing, V. J. (2008). The Protective Role of Melanin Against UV Damage in Human Skin. Photochemistry and Photobiology, 84(3), 539–549. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1751-1097.2007.00226.x