Sunscreen: Why Skin Color Matters
One of the most common misconceptions among people with dark skin is that their melanin infused skin blocks all harmful UV rays. While it’s true that melanin does provide some protection, you should still wear sunscreen if you have dark skin. The sun doesn’t care what color your skin is… you’re still at risk for skin cancer, premature aging, and sun damage… not to mention painful sunburns. Here’s why sunscreen is a must for all skin tones -even for people of color.
Skin cancer can affect anyone, whether your skin is light or dark. The natural melanin in dark skin is like wearing a sunblock of only SPF 13. That’s nowhere near as strong as the SPF 30 everyone should be wearing on a daily basis and SPF 50 if you’re outside. Sadly, people with dark skin die from skin cancer at a higher rate than lighter skinned people because they don’t realize they need to take the necessary precautions.
Dark Spots and Aging
One of the best things about dark skin is that it doesn’t show age. However, too much sun exposure could still cause premature aging, including uneven dark spots, fine lines, and eventually sagging, whether your skin is dark or light. Wearing sunscreen, even if your skin is dark, will help prevent premature aging and keep your skin looking its best as you get older.
People with light skin aren’t the only ones who have to worry about sunburn. It may take a little longer, but dark skin still burns, and it’s just as painful. You may love the tanning effect you get when you’re out in the sun, but it’s actually a sign of sun damage. Tanning is actually caused by the body producing more melanin to protect your outer skin layer.
Choosing the Right Sunscreen for Dark Skin
Finding the right sunscreen for dark skin can be challenging. Many formulas leave you with a white cast that makes your skin look ashy or chalky. They sit on top of the skin and won’t rub in no matter how hard you try. This is especially true of sunscreens that contain physical sunscreens (i.e. titanium dioxide or zinc oxide). However, physical sunscreens provide protection right away, and they’re the least likely to cause irritation.
Chemical sunscreens (i.e. oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate) can work great on dark skin because they absorb into the skin and disappear, so there’s no white cast left behind. Just be sure to apply them at least 15 minutes before you head outside to give them a chance to work. Some people also experience breakouts or irritation from chemical sunscreens. Be sure to choose an oil-free formula made for sensitive skin, especially if you have issues like acne, eczema, or psoriasis.
Regardless of your skin tone, don’t make the mistake of skipping sunscreen. Make it a part of your morning skincare routine every day, and if you get wet or sweat during the day, be sure to reapply. There’s no doubt about it, both dark and light skin need their daily dose of sun protection.
About the Author
Olivia Hsu Friedman, LAc, Dipl.OM, MSOM, RCMDerm, is the owner of Amethyst Holistic Skin Solutions and treats patients throughout the US in person and via video conferencing using only Chinese herbal medicine. Outside of the office, Olivia serves as the Vice President of the Illinois Society of Acupuncturists and is also one of two Illinois delegates to the American Society of Acupuncturists.