When you are born black, there is no going back. And that should come as good news. After all, black is beautiful. In fact, according to health experts, there are countless reasons you should be proud of your dark complexion.
According to Umar Rashid Gulooba, a skin expert and doctor at African Air Rescue (AAR), the black skin is more protected than the white one from most of the environmental factors that affect the skin, especially the sun.
“Once one has black skin, it means one has vast amounts of melanin. This is the pigment which gives the skin its dark colour. And melanin protects the skin from burning easily, hence a reduced risk of falling victim to sunburn and heat stroke,” Gulooba reveals.
However, Gulooba cautions that much as the black skin is less likely to be affected by ultraviolet light, it is not exactly an exception and actually, sometimes it succumbs to the sun’s negative effects.
Negative effects of exposure
“The most common effect of the sun on the skin is sunburn. This is most likely to occur in those with the white complexion since their skin carries very minimal amounts of melanin and hence it is less protected from ultraviolet light.
But black people also suffer from sunburn if exposed to direct and extreme sunshine for long hours,” Gulooba says.
Sunburn is basically a form of radiation burn that affects living tissue, particularly the skin.
After exposure to furnace-like sunshine, one may suffer from sunburn and the symptoms usually come in form of reddish skin, blisters and itching. The skin also becomes hot to the touch and it is likely for one to experience mild dizziness. And in extreme cases, the skin gets a reddish tint before it starts peeling off, which comes with a lot of pain.
Dark-skinned people are also at risk of suffering from a heat stroke, according to Gulooba. A heat stroke is a heat-related illness that can be fatal if not treated right.
It arises when too much heat causes changes in the function of the nervous system. The body is usually able to dissipate heat by radiation of the heat through the skin or by evaporation of heat.
But when the skin is exposed to extreme heat from the sun, it may fail to perform this function, hence a heat stroke.
The first signs of a possible heat stroke arise in the form of nausea, fatigue, severe headache and muscle aches.
These, in case of continued exposure to the sun, will soon give way to dizziness before one starts experiencing difficulties in breathing, reduced sweating with a flushed dry skin and finally, a coma.
“We have seen cases where people die after a heat stroke. It is at times fatal indeed. And much as it is caused by exposure of the skin to lots of ultraviolet light, it is further triggered by dehydration as a dehydrated body is not able to sweat fast enough to dissipate heat, and the body temperatures will thus soar,” Gulooba explains.
The devil that is skin cancer
Much as the black skin holds the desired levels of melanin that protects it against the detrimental effects of ultraviolet light, it is still prone to skin cancer. Skin cancer arises from too much exposure to the sun. This excessive heat turns the normal skin cells into abnormal ones, hence skin cancer.
According to Gulooba, there are two types of skin cancer that mainly arise from constant exposure of the skin to a lot of sunshine.
The less severe type is the non-melanoma which comes in two types; squamous skin cancer and basal cell cancer. This, which is the commonest type, has a 95 per cent cure rate if detected early and affects only the skin.
The melanoma type on the other hand, is the most dangerous type. It affects the skin but in most cases, goes through the blood to affect other organs such as the heart and the lungs, and sometimes the bones. Melanoma comes as a black or brown flat mole with uneven edges.
The symptoms of skin cancer usually bubble to the surface in form of sores, itching, bruises that do not heal or a dark streak under the toe nail or fingernail.
The sun can have bad effects on black skin too, but fortunately, these can be avoided.
According to the World Health Organisation, the sure remedy to the evils arising from ultraviolet light is to avoid excessive exposure to direct sunshine.
This can be attained by ensuring that most of the body is covered, especially when under the sun. Even when at the beach, one should ensure their bare body is not exposed to vast amounts of sunshine for long hours.
Protection for your skin
Always wear protective clothing plus a wide-brim hat if you intend to spend a lot of time under the sun.
Use sunscreen. This is usually in form of a lotion and contains filters of ultraviolet radiation and should be applied per square centimetre of exposed skin.
Sunscreen should be applied at least 30 minutes before exposure to the sun.
Drink lots of water because a better hydrated body is more suited to dissipate the extra heat.