Conference Coverage

When recommending photoprotection in dark skin, consider cosmesis



he effort to increase use of sun protection among Black individuals and others with relatively dark skin is likely to require tailoring of strategies to address barriers and alter perceptions, according to a review of racial differences in the approach to photoprotection, presented at the virtual Skin of Color Update 2020.

Dr. Amy McMichael

Dr. Amy McMichael

“Using photoprotection is not second nature to people of color,” said Amy McMichael, MD, chair, department of dermatology, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, N.C. “It is important to understand the complexity of perception in photoprotection patients with skin of color,” she added.

One obstacle is appearance. For instance, some products appear chalky on dark skin.

“Consider cosmesis,” advised Dr. McMichael. As an alternative to oxybenzone and other organic sunscreen filters, she specifically recommended inorganic sunscreens with tint. Currently, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are the only Food and Drug Administration–approved inorganic filters, she noted. The nanoparticle formulations are less than 100 nm in size. Tinted products blocking visible light of different shades have been developed for individuals of all Fitzpatrick skin types.

Many patients with dark skin will need convincing that sun protection offers benefits and does not impose significant risks. In one survey cited by Dr. McMichael, Blacks reported the lowest level of sunscreen use when compared with Whites, Asians, or Latinos. While the increased melanin content in the skin of people of color does provide natural photoprotection, it does not fully eliminate the many adverse consequences of excess sun exposure.

“Photoprotection is essential to minimize acute and chronic effects of exposure to UV light that includes erythema, pigment darkening, photoaging, and photocarcinogenesis,” Dr. McMichael noted.

Among Black people who do employ sun protection, a large proportion do so to reduce the risk or prevent exacerbation of dyschromias such as vitiligo, melasma, and postinflammatory hyperpigmentation, according to Dr. McMichael. However, there appears to be inadequate use of sunscreens even for these concerns.

According to a study she cited, dermatologists prescribed sunscreens to Black patients in only 1.8% of office visits. Yet, 5% of all dermatologist consultations by Black patients are made to address a dyschromia. After acne, generalized forms of dermatitis, seborrheic dermatitis, and atopic dermatitis, dyschromias are the fifth most common reason for Blacks to consult a dermatologist.

“We cannot know from the data what the provider was seeing, but we can see that sunscreens are not the first medication that providers are reaching for,” Dr. McMichael said.

There are some concerns about the use of sunscreen that can be dispelled. The risk of vitamin D deficiency is one. Dr. McMichael, citing National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data, said there appears to be a low risk in Whites and essentially no risk in Blacks.

The potential for sunscreens to induce frontal fibrosing alopecia (FFA) is another concern, but Dr. McMichael sees several problems with the surveys that have associated sunscreens with FFA, including recall bias, temporal ambiguity regarding sunscreen exposure and FFA onset, and cases of FFA in areas of the world where sunscreen is not used.

For sunscreens and FFA, “there is no direct evidence of causation,” she said. For concerned patients, she does acknowledge that there are data supporting an association, but she explains that this “connection is very loose at best.”

When encouraging sun protection, Dr. McMichael discusses alternatives to sunscreens, including hats and clothing that are photoprotective, wrap-around sunglasses, and sun avoidance. For patients with dyschromias, it makes particular sense to employ multiple sun protection strategies, but Dr. McMichael suggested that everybody, including individuals with skin of color, should be considering how to reduce excess sun exposure. She indicated that messages should to be tailored for the Black population.

“It is important to understand the complexity of the perception in photoprotection in patients with skin of color,” she said. Success with increasing uptake of sunscreens in patients with darker skin might depend on allaying fears and directing patients to agents that are cosmetically acceptable.

Others have delivered the same or related messages in the past. Natasha Buchanan Lunsford, PhD, a researcher in the Division of Cancer Prevention and Control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, led a study on perceptions about skin cancer among Blacks and Hispanics.

“Most participants perceived themselves to be at low skin cancer risk due to their darker skin tone,” reported Dr. Lundsford and her coinvestigators, a finding based on data collected from 18 focus groups with Black and Hispanic participants aged 18 through 44 years.

In this study, Hispanics reported sun protection behavior more often than Blacks, but the minority of both groups used sunscreen or other sun avoidance measures routinely. For those who did use sunscreens, skin darkening and photoaging, rather than prevention of skin cancer, was the most common motivation to do so.

One problem is that “while general skin cancer prevention messaging exists, tailored and culturally sensitive messaging is limited,” Dr. Lundsford and coauthors wrote.

Dr. McMichael has financial relationships with multiple pharmaceutical companies, including those that make skin care products.

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