Healthcare misinformation is nothing new and unfortunately there are countless myths and misconceptions that are especially harmful to Black and Brown-skinned individuals and can even impact the type of care we receive in clinics and hospitals. It’s time to dispel some common and pervasive myths to ensure we take better care of ourselves.
Dark skin doesn’t need sunscreen
Melanin is a pigment that gives our skin its colour and protects against UV protection. More melanin results in darker skin and greater protection against the sun’s harmful rays. However, this does not mean that dark skin is immune to sun damage. Dark skin can get sunburned, dark skin can get sun-damaged, and dark skin can develop skin cancer. Why does this myth exist? Well, most research and clinical trials regarding sun exposure and skin cancer risk have been done with White subjects leaving many gaps when it comes to information about their impact on Black and Brown skin. Despite the lack in clinical research, what is clear is that our melanin alone is not enough to protect us from sun damage and skin cancer. No matter how dark your skin, appropriate sun protection including sunscreen, protective clothing, and sun safe habits as per NHS or local guidelines are essential.
Dark skin is more resilient
One of the scarier and most outrageous myths out there is that dark skinned people are less sensitive to pain. Over two centuries ago, doctor and slaveowner Thomas Hamilton, concluded that Black people had thicker skin that was resistant to pain. Unfortunately, this continues to impact the medical care and pain management we receive in many specialties including surgery, oncology and obstetrics. Pain is a human experience and is deserving of adequate assessment. You should always discuss your pain with your GP or the hospital staff in charge of your care. Though strong pain medication is not always acceptable, you are entitled to appropriate care as well as an adequate explanation when it comes to the decisions made about your treatment.
Dark skin doesn’t need mental health
Increasingly, we are understanding that mental health is a key component of overall health and wellbeing. Still, Black, and Brown-skinned people are disproportionately categorised as ‘strong’, ‘resilient’ or any kind of hollow praise that implies that we are invulnerable to mental and psychological distress. This pervasive stereotype – along with discrimination, mental health stigma and countless inequalities faced by our communities – can be a difficult barrier to overcome when seeking and accessing appropriate mental health care. No one, no matter their age, race, gender, or situation in life, is immune to mental health problems. We must empower ourselves and our communities to prioritise mental wellbeing and reject stereotypes that would shame us for experiencing and reacting to stress, anxiety, or helplessness. Unfortunately, health myths can be a barrier to receiving the care we need and deserve. But making informed decisions about our everyday health depends on having correct information. By aligning yourself with reliable sources of health information, we can work towards dispelling these health myths.