Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Vitamin D: Do African Americans Wear Sunscreen?

I've been reading about vitamin D and expected to read about the benefits of the vitamin. Y'know, the usual. But I realized that it was much bigger deal than I could have imagined, so I figured I would break this topic up into parts.

Part I. Do Black Folks Wear Sunscreen?

The last time I watched Oprah, I remember her mentioning that she wears sunscreen. I use to always wonder if black folks wore sunscreen. It was always a source of embarrassment for me. Hey, you're dark, why are you wearing it? Also, I knew some black people who didn't want to be out in the sun for fear of getting darker. Y'know, try to stay as "light" as you can. The times I would wear sunscreen, I preferred not having my friends know b/c once they did, they snickered at me.

But, hey, I didn't want to get skin cancer! Even black folks gotta be careful!

And yet...I came across an article commenting that are thousands of Africans living in the hottest, sunniest places for years upon years, and yet they are not falling left and right from sun exposure. What gives?

Well, there are three things to know:
1. Sunlight is a natural nutrient that allows us to produce vitamin D in our bodies.
2. Sunscreen is truly effective. The weakest sunblock of SPF 8-15 can block out UV rays by 95%!
3. People with dark pigmentation have a natural barrier, called melanin, against the sun. Depending on the skin tone, according to Dr. Micheal Holick, we basically have a natural SPF of 15-30%

The problem here is that many people, especially those with darker skin tones are deficient in vitamin D. And in my readings, I've learned that vitamin D does more than help our bodies absorb calcium. MUCH MORE!

Much of the info given over comes from Dr. Micheal Holick, a heavy weight in vitamin D studies. He is Professor of Medicine, Phsiology, and Biophysics at the Boston University School of Medicine. And he (among others) is correcting a lot of misconceptions about sunlight, which some people aren't too happy about. And you will soon see why...

G-d bless!


The First Domino דומינו said...

Thanks, Chaya. Good information.

When I was growing up, my brother and I worked in the fields during Summer break.

The sun, in our part of the country, was merciless during the Summer months, but no matter how much time we spent in the sun we were never burned.

After spending a week working in the fields, we attended a Saturday afternoon matinée--probably saw a "shoot'em up," a staple for kids during my era.

During that movie something happened to us that had never happened before: almost simultaneously our back began to sting, and itch.

We didn't know what to think: was there something in the seats were we sat?

We changed seats, but the problem persisted--stinging and itching.

When we arrived home that evening we ripped off our shirt to be greeted with sunburn blisters.

We, both, had been burned that week while working in the fields.

That was my first and last sunburn, no matter how much time I spent in the sun.

I'm thinking that that Summer the sun must have been particularly hot, or our skin was particularly sensitive.

Either way, it was an unwelcomed experience, but it answered that age-old question--Can blacks suffer sunburns?

The surprising answer, at least to us: You bet we can!

Chaya said...

Hey, Domino
Thanks for the story. I'm so curious...what kind of fields were they that you and your bro worked in?

And you're so right. Although we've got a built-in SPF, we still can get burned from over exposure.

The First Domino דומינו said...

"I'm so curious...what kind of fields were they that you and your bro worked in?"

We worked in many, but mostly cotton.

Chaya said...

Whoa. I'm sure you have lots of stories, Domino. Thank you for sharing this one...

Anonymous said...

I am an African, born and raised on African soil. Burning occurs but our skins handles it better and just gets as you said above darker. Just as white skin gets tanned. But the thing that we quickly learned without being told by anyone was when and where to expose ourselves. I knew not to sit directly under the sun, so would expose different body parts at a time. We tended to sit half in the sun and half in the shade...tended to keep my top half in the shade at all times. And when it was terrible hot mainly between 12 and 2 we sat in the shade.

Living in the UK has made me appreciate my roots a hundred fold. When we got sun back home (still the case), it always comes with a breeze. It was not hot and humid...which is soooo uncomfortable.

But I do like your topic. Begs the question those of African heritage are constantly being told to wear the lowest spf but in actual fact they are doubling it...I'm grateful for my doctor who has encouraged and taught me that I shouldn't use Sunscreen as it blocks us from getting the essential Vit D we need and mostly to take Vit D during the colder months to keep my body in balance.

Chaya said...

Thanks, Anon for posting!
I really appreciate your comments b/c it's an issue that has always interested me, but I have never heard anyone talk about it. (tho now I am finding more resources) And that's great that your doctor was honest with you about sunscreen use. hmm, and your comments also really help shed light about some of the practices in the 'African' soil, which I thirst for!! Thank you!!

Chaya said...
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