It is no myth that those with darker skin don’t burn as easily as our pale-skinned friends, but when it comes to sun protection, it’s an area not to be disregarded.
Dark skin can still burn and, and when it does, the damage is just as dangerous, in fact belief in the myth than black or brown skin cannot burn has become so prevalent that it has led to an alarming statistic: dark-skinned individuals are more likely to die from skin cancer than those with fair skin.
In 2009, the “Journal of the American Medical Association Dermatology” conducted a survey of 100 subjects of Hispanic, Asian and African-American descent. Of 100 survey participants, 65 believed that they were not at risk for developing skin cancer and admitted to spending time in the sun without proper sun protection.
It’s a dangerous line to walk… Whilst the melanin in brown skin distinguishes it from paler skin and dark skin has and gives it a natural SPF of about 13, this doesn’t mean you don’t need protection when spending time in the sun.
Yes, a darker-skinned person can stay in the sun up to ten times longer than their paler-skinned counterparts. However, using a sunscreen prevents your skin absorbing the ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays from the sun before they affect the skin.
Sunscreen creates a protective barrier that reflects UV rays, causing them to bounce off the skin.
Am I protected against skin cancer because of the melanin in my skin?
The answer is a big NO. In African-American skin, melanin offers a sun protection factor of approximately 13.4; in Caucasians, the melanin SPF factor measures in at about 3.4. Anyone can get skin cancer if they neglect their skin and expose it to harmful UV rays and consequential sun damage excessively.
Are there any steps to regularly check my skin?
It is a good habit to check your skin once a month, head to toe in front of a mirror. Pay attention to your hands, fingers, feet, toes, nails and mouth, which is where melanoma type skin cancers are more likely to appear in darker skins.
Look for dark brown or black spots in these areas, no matter how small or if they’ve always been there or appeared from nowhere. Dark streaks or lines along one fingernail or toenail are also tell-tale signs. It’s always best to be cautious and, if concerned, book an appointment with the doctors.
What factor sunscreen is appropriate for a darker skin?
A sunscreen with an SPF 15 (which means you can stay in the sun 15 times longer without burning) is sufficient, but if you have any medical conditions or have sensitive skin, you may need a sunscreen of SPF 30 or even up to SPF 50.
Always check with your doctor or skin specialist if you’re unsure. Once you understand the essential steps to healthy skin, you will be well-equipped to take care of yourself in the sun.
Sunscreen brands for darker skin
Personally, some of my favourites include:
- Sensai Silky Bronze Cellular Protective Stick SPF 30
- Palmer’s Eventone Suncare Sunscreen Stick SPF 50
- Sun Blockex SPF 50 from PharmaClinix
General tips for darker skinned and tanning care
- All women with brown skin should use sunscreen daily
- Always apply sunscreen 20 minutes before you’re exposed to the sun to allow your skin to absorb the product and create a barrier
- Use sunscreen covering all areas well like exposed skin—face, neck and hands. Apply at least a shot-glass full (about one ounce)
- Store sunscreen in a cool area and don’t keep beyond expiration date
- Find a sunscreen in the form you like – gel, cream, oil or lotion
Tips for day to day skincare
- Your skin goes through a lot each day – pollution, sweat, harshness. Twice a day, cleanse, tone and moisturise your face to get rid of the dirt on your face (I usually double cleanse twice a day)
- Try and avoid abrasive cleansers or cleansing products which can irritate brown skin. Exfoliate only every few days
- Facial skin should be cleansed with your fingertips and massage gently in a circular motion upwards.
- Use products designed for your skin type
Regardless of your skin type and how long you plan to be in the sun, remember to always protect your skin – no matter what colour it may be.