Black People Don't...get sunburn (NOT)

Nov 20 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

Kayne West's song 'Clique', which features Jay-Z and Big Sean, is a great song.  Unfortunately, this song contains a science myth.


Lyric of interest from 'Clique'. Screen capture from


Kayne West, who voices the science myth lyric, is not too black to burn from sunrays.  Allow my fellow science blogger @DNLee5 and I to explain...


@DNLee5's arm (left) and my arm (right)


@DNLee5 and I are both black, but @DNLee5 has more melanin in her skin cells than I do and has darker skin.  We both can get sunburns.

Sunburn results when the amount of exposure to the sun or other ultraviolet light source exceeds the ability of the body's protective pigment, melanin, to protect the skin.

[Sunburn from MedlinePlus of the National Institute of Health]

Because @DNLee5 has more melanin in her skin than I do, she may be able to tolerate a longer exposure to the sun longer than I can.  While a kid, I once suffered a sunburn so severe it was classified as a second degree burn requiring medical treatment.  @DNLee5, who recently returned from field research in Tanzania, has this to say:

Being darker means I may not burn as quickly as @DrRubidium, who has lighter skin, but my skin definitely does feel and react to the heat.  If unprotected (via clothing or sun block), my skin tone will deepen with continued exposure.  But more immediately it get warm, and hold heat.  At times I have gotten heat rash.  I'm still fighting off a heat rash from Africa.  The problem with my darker skin and extended sun exposure is that I will not likely get the tell-tale signs of heat burn - the redness. Maybe that is why people think Black folks don't get sun burn, because we rarely see it, except in folks with fairer skin tones.  But it does and can happen.

Unless Kayne West is taking the recommended precautions, he too can get a sunburn.

The persistent myth that black people don't get sunburns gave rise to the myth that black people don't get skin cancer.

African Americans may not be as careful with their sun safety habits as their white counterparts, believing that the melanin in their darker skin is protecting them from skin cancer. While skin cancer is less common in people with darker skin, people of color are at some risk for the disease. Unfortunately, African Americans are often diagnosed at an advanced stage, when there is less chance for a cure.

[African Americans Can Get Skin Cancer: This Summer, Protect Yourself from the  National Cancer Institute]

It's important to note that there isn't just one type of skin cancer.  Plus, skin cancer can develop on skin not typically exposed to sun.

There are several types of skin cancer.  The two most common types are non-melanoma skin cancer (basal cell cancer and squamous cell cancer) and melanoma.  Basal cell skin cancer grows slowly.  It usually occurs on areas of the skin that have been in the sun, and it is most common on the face.  Basal cell cancer rarely spreads to other parts of the body.  Squamous cell skin cancer also occurs on parts of the skin that have been in the sun, but it also may be in places that are not in the sun.  Squamous cell cancer sometimes spreads to lymph nodes and organs inside the body.  Melanoma occurs much less frequently than basal cell and squamous cell cancer, but it is the most serious and deadly form of skin cancer.

Among African Americans, squamous cell cancer is the most common form of skin cancer. Although squamous cell cancer is generally curable, it may be more serious when it occurs in African Americans than when it appears in whites. And although melanoma is much less common in African Americans than in whites, when it does occur in African Americans it is particularly deadly. This disease usually begins as an abnormal mole. In whites, melanomas often develop on the trunk and legs, but in African Americans, melanomas are most often found under the nails, on the palms of hands, and on the soles of the feet.

[African Americans Can Get Skin Cancer: This Summer, Protect Yourself from the  National Cancer Institute; emphasis added]

Black people get sunburns.  Black people get skin cancer.  No one is "too black" for either.




Note: Kayne West may simply be communicating  that he's too bad-ass to get a sunburn.  He may well be a bad-ass, but unless he's taking the proper precautions, he can still get a sunburn.



5 responses so far

  • Hello, just wanted to tell you, I enjoyed this article. It was helpful. Keep on posting!

  • [...] black people and others with dark skin burn? Yes. Emphatically yes. Don’t listen to what Kanye West says. Someone of African descent may be able to take more UVB exposure and stay out in the sun longer [...]

  • Guest says:

    Saying black people get sunburn is just as silly, if not sillier, as saying they don't. Sure you and your friend have the misfortune of experiencing sunburn but you do not represent the entire black population on the planet and it is arrogant to assume that your experience will be the same for everyone else. The fact remains that while there are black people who experience sunburns, A LOT of black people have never and will never experience it, EVER. And I am one of them :).

    And I have to state the obvious here- if Kanye says he does not burn then he does not burn so it cannot be a myth if it is HIS truth. It does not matter how he phrased those lyrics. He has no reason to lie about his experience in the sun. Not all blacks get sunburn and he is obviously one of them :).

  • […] It’s just not as easy to see. Black people do, in fact, get sunburns. […]

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