Caring For The Skin You're In

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What kind of skin are you in? If you’re African–American, your ebony good looks may be marred by acne, moles, keloids and yes, melanoma, a lethal form of skin cancer. Although Black skin is loaded with large amounts of melanin – the pigment producing substance that gives us color and provided some protection from the sun’s damaging effects, melanin does not guarantee that we will not develop melanoma.

A recent study conducted by the American Academy of Dermatologists busted the myth that Blacks have nothing to fear from overexposure to the ultra violet rays of the sun. In fact, the study reports that once the disease had been diagnosed, Blacks actually have higher death rates from melanoma than other racial groups, including fair–skinned Whites. Skin cancer in Blacks may not appear on skin areas exposed to the sun. Unlike Whites whose cancers typically show up on the face, chest and back, melanomas in African Americans most often are found in mucous membranes of the mouth, genitals or nasal passages and between toes and fingers.

Blacks tend to not associate the appearance of unusual growths with cancer. Instead, we ignore them – a deadly mistake. With a 96% successful cure rate, skin cancer is one of the easiest cancers to treat when detected before it spreads to other parts of the body. Left undetected, only about half of African–Americans diagnosed with melanoma survive the disease.

Keloids are a build up of scar tissue at the site of a wound or injury and present another barrier to unblemished skin for many Blacks. Keloids can be surgically removed, but if your skin tends to form these unsightly, raised scars, give extra thought before you head out to the tattoo or body–piercing salon. Keloids can form from only small cuts or wounds and tend to recur even after surgical removal.

Moles are unsightly growths caused by a virus that afflicts Black women, almost exclusively. Moles are not pretty, but are often harmless and can appear on the neck, face, chest and hands. However, if moles change in texture, color, size or appearance, it may indicate the formation of skin cancer and should be checked by your physician. Like keloids, moles can be surgically removed, usually by laser treatment, and tend not to grow back.

"Ashy" skin is a condition all African–Americans are familiar with as most of us have childhood memories of our mother’s loving hands slathering our bodies with petroleum jelly or lotion to remove the appearance of dusty, flaky skin. "Ashyness" is nothing more than dry skin. A good moisturizer applied daily and especially after bathing, eliminates the condition.

The bottom line on the skin you’re in is CARE. Inspect your entire body frequently for unusual marks, growths or blemishes. Pay special attention to the appearance of dark lines on, under or around your finger and toenails. These may also signal cancer.

Protect yourself when outdoors winter, summer, spring and fall. Wear head coverings and clothing that protects from the sun. Make the application of a sun block product with an SP (sun protection) rating of 15 or higher, part of your daily body care regimen.

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