Can Black People Get Sunburn?

This weeks ask a Black person is simple. iI’s the tile. Can Black people get sunburn?

I remember the first time I was offered sunblock. I was going to my first pool party ( a whole other issue) with a white family.

“Did you bring your sunblock?”

I. Was. Confused. Do what now? It turns out the people with lighter skin tones need a thing called sunblock to stop them from getting ” sunburned”. Every Black family I knew had lotion readily available but no sunblock. Everyone I knew just went outside. Your skin got darker and we moved on. ( It’s a bit more complicated than that. You can read about Colorism here.).
 
For me personally, it was high school before I received sunburn. A week in Florida and no sunblock. A laughed at my white classmates as they turned pink and red and slathered themselves with white paste. Karma got me back soon enough.

Sunburn was a new and awful feeling for me. My skin looked no different but was warm to the touch and stinging. I’d rubbed it raw from wearing a rope bag over it and wanted to cry from pain. I said nothing because I was going to enjoy Disney or die trying! Within a few days, my skin flaked away and my torture was over.

So, yes, Black people can get sunburn. 


The part that makes us brown, having more melanin, means our skin is better equipped for the sun. It’s not that we CAN’T burn. It’s just we are more likely to tan than to burn. Particularly the darker the shade of skin, the less likely of a sunburn. When we do sunburn it’s harder to tell since we don’t turn pink or red with the same amount of ease. To be honest I believe part of why we don’t notice when we are sunburned as much is that we have to be outside for such a long time for it to happen. Since our culture tells us that being lighter is more beautiful many of us avoid being outdoors for large amounts of time. So I imagine there isn’t enough time for us to burn.

p.s. Yes, Black folk, we can get skin cancer. So use sunscreen or check yourself regularly.

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Editors Note: This post has been updated for clarity in 2020.

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