Can black people really not get sunburn?

I recall reading somewhere that blacks are either immune to or strongly resistant to sunburn. Is this true? If so, why, and, where can I sign up?

Nope, not true. I know of a couple of black people that have burned.

Skin burns. Doesn’t matter what color it is.

I have a friend who is black - with a medium dark skin color. She burns, and her skin also gets darker in the summertime. She educated me on this topic a few years back with great care!

But black skin evolved as protection from the sun, so they are more burn resistant right?

Skin color evolved more as a mechanism for preventing birth defects than anything else. It’s been awhile since I learned this stuff, but it had something to do with vitamin levels - B12, if I’m remembering right. In a sunny environment, dark skin helps maintain that vitamin level, which, if imbalanced, leads to frequent miscarriages.

There’s no real other evolutionary mechanism that could stem from protection from the sun - Sunburns and cancer rarely keep an organism from reproducing, passing on its genes.

hijack but what about folks who do not get sunburned regardless of sun exposure. my sister doesn’t burn, she just gets very dark and i see her using a lot more of those spritzy bottles of plain water rather than lotion. my father used to be the same way except as he’s gotten older he’s started getting sunburns.
is it genetic? these people just have more b12 in their system?

I have burned twice in my life, but for the most part I don’t burn-

I’ve always been one of those people that could tan very quickly but spend all day in the sun without burning. When I was younger that most I ever got was slight redness on my shoulders. Other then that the only time I ever really burned was when I was on medication (accutane) and spent all day in the florida sun in summer.

Melanin offers some protection from sunburn. Google it, lazybones. :wink:
Back in the “black is beautiful” days of the 70’s, many of my black friends would sunbathe to darken their skin.

No, I don’t think that’s quite right. People near the equator get plenty of sunshine, and so developed more melanin in the skin to protect them from too much sun. As humans moved north from Africa to where there is less sunshine - and even no sunshine for parts of the year if you go far enough north - people with darker skin didn’t absorb enough vitamin D from the sun. So they lightened up.

My son is African-ancestored/dark-skinned and he has never sunburned. He spent a lot of time on the beach, even as a baby. The darker the skin the less of a problem it is, from what I’ve seen. Dark skin DOES offer protection from the skin. That’s the whole idea.

BTW - I’ve noticed that there are certain one-liners responses you can absolutely predict if you say certain things.

Say “I like Peking duck” and someone will always say, “Yes, but it’s fatty.” How come if you say “I like ice cream,” people hardly ever say, “Yes, but it’s fattening.”?

Say, “I’m going to plant bamboo along my back fence,” and someone WILL respond, “Be careful, because it is invasive.” They will always use the word “invasive,” too.

I can’t remember what the statement is that prompts it, but you can almost always get someone to say, "Black people sunburn, too. Okay, maybe they do. But the FACT is that the darker your skin, the less you burn, the longer it takes to burn and the less badly you burn.

I remember seeing a quote that even the darkest of human skin tones only provide about 15% more protection than the lightest.

Could someone tell me why i do not tan period? My hair is jet black so i have no problem making melanin,but i just wish i could tan at all instead of burning everytime.

Slugworth is right about the leading reason scientists believe the protection was necessary, though he’s got the vitamin wrong. It is folic acid. Exposure to UV light can break down folic acid in the body. This can greatly increase infant mortality as folic acid is an essential vitamin for fetuses in early pregnacy. Melanin is an effective protection against folic acid breakdown.

Perhaps it isn’t quite accepted yet, but it is the best explanation I’ve heard for dark skin color. Here’s the abstract to the paper on it.

FWIW… I have red hair and I’m pretty fair skinned… when i was a child all i would do is burn. never tan… i used to still get pink even with spf 35 sunblock on… my childhood was sunburn after sunburn (we used to go to the lake every weekend)…

however nowadays… and i dont know when the ‘change’ happened… i never really noticed it until the past year or so…

but i dont burn anymore… or rather, id say i burn less than my friends who have “normal” skin do.

its strange… it takes longer for me to get tan in the summer than most of them, but I can be outside for longer and I just dont burn as easily… my girlfriend on the other hand NEVER BURNS and although she is white, she is tan year round and in the summer she only has to stay outside for a short time and bam… she has a darker tan than all our other friends who have to get tanning memberships and go for weeks and weeks…

weird huh :slight_smile:

i also have no cite… but i do remember reading that the darker the skin, the more protected it is from those cancer causing rays… which is why people get tan in the first place… when you are really pale and stay outside and get that first sunburn, the body is essentially caught off guard, and to keep that from happening again you get darker, which provides more protection so the next time you are outside for prolonged periods of time it doesnt happen again…

Interesting abstract. It supports the Vitamin D theory and the folic acid theory. My question now is whether white skinned people moving to the tropics - or being anywhere there’s a lot of sun - have problems with their folic acid breaking down? I especially wonder about white women who are pregnant producing more children with neural tube problems. Sounds like tanning beds would be a really, really bad idea, too.

Having very dark skin is the equivalent of wearing SPF 13.4 sunscreen all the time. This according to Ashley H. Robins in Biological Perspectives on Human Pigmentation.


There’s an African-American woman in my office. A few weeks ago, our HR department handed out a bunch of coupon books with coupons good at local merchants. As we were leafing through them, our African-American colleague said, “Here’s a bunch of tanning coupons I don’t need. Anybody want them?” Another (white) woman asked, “Why don’t you want them???” African-American colleague just looked at her like she was stupid for a couple of seconds, until she (white girl) figured it out. :smiley:

I believe tanning beds are discouraged for pregnant women for this reason. A white person moving to the tropics would probably have less of a problem as long as she didn’t get too much sun. Like no working outside naked. And all pregnant women should probably take folic acid supplements.