Sunscreen for Dark Skin: Why You Need It and Top Picks
Sunscreen use among men and women with dark skin tones is notoriously low. According to data published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology involving over 4,000 Americans, only 4% of black men and 15% of black women reported using sunscreen on their faces. Similarly, 16% of hispanic men and 36% of hispanic women reported the same. Compare these numbers to 22% of white men and 49% of white women who use sunscreen on their faces, and it is easy to see a discrepancy.
Despite the fact that some immediate signs of sunburn such as redness may not be as easily detected on darker skin tones, UV rays cause serious damage on the skin – no matter its color. For this reason, it is imperative that everyone wears sunscreen on a daily basis, including people of color.
This guide breaks down the basics of UV radiation, sun damage, and skin cancer risks, as well as offers sunscreen suggestions specifically for people with dark skin tones.
How Do UV Rays Damage Skin?
UV light triggers a chemical reaction within your DNA that causes two adjacent thymine molecules – an important component of DNA – to become bonded together. This results in what is known as a thymine dimer. While your body can repair thymine dimers in many cases, extensive damage caused by accumulated exposure to UV light can make repairs more difficult and may lead to skin cancer or even the death of the affected skin cell.
Our skin does have built-in protection from UV damage in the form of the pigment melanin. While darker-toned skin naturally contains more melanin than light-toned skin, it does not filter out all of the sun’s UV rays. So people of color can still get a sunburn and the resulting risks that go along with it. In addition to an increased risk of skin cancer, UV exposure causes premature skin aging and can affect pigmentation issues as well.
Important Sun-Safety Facts for Skin of Color
- Areas that are not necessarily exposed to the sun, like the bottoms of your feet and hands, under nails, and existing scars can be very susceptible to sun damage in people of color. Bob Marley is known to have suffered from skin cancer under the nail of his toe. So in addition to wearing sunscreen on a daily basis, it is important to do regular self-exams for skin cancer and see your dermatologist annually or biannually for a thorough checkup.
- African Americans and hispanics have higher mortality rates if they do develop skin cancer. This may be due to the fact that it is more difficult to detect early signs of skin cancer in darker complexions, so the disease is often diagnosed in more advanced stages than in caucasians.
- It is important to know what to look for when examining your skin. Read this blog for an overview of three types of skin cancer and their common symptoms. If you notice other abnormalities such as a scab that won’t heal, a patch of rough, scaly skin, or a dark line under a nail, make an appointment with your dermatologist as soon as you can.
What Are the Best Sunscreens for Dark Skin?
If you prefer not to use chemical sunscreens, physical sunscreens that contain minerals like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are a great choice. However, these ingredients can leave a white or ashy film on the skin, especially for darker skin tones. So you will want to choose an option that is translucent when you apply it. Fortunately, more and more physical sunscreens are now being formulated to minimize this unwanted effect. Here are just a few top picks:
- Sente Invisible Shield
- NIA24 Sun Damage Protection
- Obagi Nu-Derm Physical
- Replenix Sheer Physical
- La Roche-Posay Anthelios Clear
- Specific Beauty Active Radiance SPF 30
Wearing sunscreen daily is a must, no matter your skin tone or where you live. The key is finding a product that works for you and that you like so you won’t think twice about putting it on in the morning. I also recommend choosing one in a comfortable price range so that you are not worried about how much you’re using and that you reapply it as often as needed – every hour when out in the sun or after swimming or sweating.
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