Does Melanin Really Prevent Skin Cancer?
"I don't need sunblock. I have a tan."—If you have ever heard anything to this effect, then you have heard one of the greatest misconceptions about skin cancer. Many people think skin pigmentation can prevent skin cancer, but the truth is much more complicated. If you're wondering whether or not melanin does prevent skin cancer, then it's time to learn the truth.
Prevention vs. Risk
Does melanin prevent skin cancer? To answer this question properly, we must first address the topic of "preventing" skin cancer.
Most dermatologists will tell you there are no absolute preventions for skin cancer. At least some risk exists for everyone. However, it is possible to reduce your risk.
Measures like using sunscreen, staying inside during peak sun hours, covering up in the sun, and taking shade breaks all dramatically lower your risk of developing skin cancer.
Does Melanin Reduce Skin Cancer Risk?
With that idea in mind, melanin does not prevent skin cancer but does lower risks. However, no matter how much melanin might be in the skin, skin cancer is still possible. That's why sunblock and other preventative measures are still important, as are regular screenings to detect early warning signs of skin cancer.
Still, melanin does lower overall risk, and it's important to understand why and how.
Melanin and UV Light
Skin cancer usually comes from exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, typically from sunlight. Here's how it works.
Sunlight has high-energy UV radiation mixed in with it. That radiation can damage DNA in your skin cells; in some cases, that damage causes cancer.
Melanin is generally good at absorbing UV rays. The DNA in the skin does not absorb any UV absorbed by the melanin, so you get a bit of a natural barrier from the melanin in your skin.
Here's the catch.
Melanin does not create a perfect barrier. It's more like a mesh protection than a perfect shield. It can absorb some of the UV rays, but no level of melanin concentration will ever absorb all UV rays.
The end result is that high melanin concentrations lower the overall risk of skin cancer, but it's still very important to follow basic precautions. Avoid direct exposure during the most intense solar activity. Use sunscreen. Do regular checkups.
Schedule a Skin Cancer Screening in Key West, FL, or Islamorada, FL
Keys Dermatology has extensive experience in preventing, diagnosing, and treating various skin conditions, including skin cancer in its earliest stages.
If you would like to know more about melanin and skin cancer, or if you would like to schedule a screening, you can contact us today by calling (305) 664-8828. Keys Dermatology has locations in Key West and Islamorada, FL.