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Myth Busters: Black Women Don’t Need Sunscreen

There’s always been a myth surrounding black people and sunscreen. Many people believe that black people don’t have to wear sunscreen. When I was a little girl, I had just gotten back from the beach when I noticed my skin beginning to peel. My white classmates didn’t believe that it was possible for me to get a sunburn. Their reaction stunned me until I realized that people really do think African Americans’ skin is invincible to the sun’s powerful UV Rays.

It’s a misconception all of us have dealt with in our lives. Our beautiful melanin does come with many positive health benefits but our skin can become just as damaged by the sun as the fairest skin. Here are a few reasons why the idea that we don’t need sunscreen is an absolute myth.

Black People Can Still Get Skin Cancer

No one’s skin is insusceptible to skin cancer. For African Americans, the risk for us getting skin cancer is lower than Caucasians. Detection rates are lower for black people partly due to a late diagnosis which often leads to skin cancer going untreated in African American communities. At least 56% of African Americans discovered they had an advanced form of melanoma, according to 2016 study in Archives of Dermatology journal. It’s important for African Americans to seek a dermatologist if they notice any significant changes to the skin, including damage such as moles or patches of skin that have an abnormal color.

Skin Cancer Affects People of Color in Unseen Areas and Scars

One of the most prominent areas black people can still develop skin cancer are those that we wouldn’t think about every day. While white people may see signs of skin cancer on their arms, legs, or shoulders, for black people it could be under the feet, a fingernail, or the palms of our hands. Skin cancer on darker skin can also affect those who already have existing scars on their bodies. The sun can damage those scars even more by causing inflammation. The National Cancer Institute found that there’s a 20%-40% risk of cancer spreading on an existing scar amongst people of color.

Sun Exposure Ages Our Skin

Our melanin acts as a natural barrier between our skin and the sun’s UV rays. Our skin gets darker when we are in the sun rather than turning red like people who’s skin lack melanin.  Darker skin often hides dangerous sun damage. With prolonging sun damage, comes aging, which affects everyone regardless of your race or gender. For darker skin tones, signs of aging include saggy skin and hyperpigmentation.

People of color are not immune to sun damage. Ladies, our melanin is poppin’ but if you want your black to never crack, it’s important for us to use SPF on a daily basis.

What Kind Sunscreen To Use

Daily Sunscreen

As women of color, our sunscreen needs are a little bit different than the average woman. Not only do we have to worry about protecting our skin, we also have to worry about how specific formulations of sunscreen will appear on our skin. When searching for a daily facial sunscreen we recommend visiting your local beauty counter. Sampling a range of products will let you finetune your skincare and makeup routine.  Experiment with different brand formulations and focus on finding an SPF that not only compliments your makeup routine but is also neutral on the skin. The last thing you need your sunscreen doing is making you look ashy and giving you breakouts or suffocating your pores. Chemical sunscreens, which feature compounds such as oxybenzone, octinoxate, octisalate and avobenzone tend to have a lighter feel and are perfect for everyday facial use.

Active Sunscreen

When searching for a general sunscreen for outdoor activity, remember to always read product labels. We recommend physical sunscreens where zinc oxide or titanium dioxide are the main ingredients which block both UVA & UVB rays. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, a broad-spectrum sunscreen needs a minimum of SPF 30. Over SPF 50 however, tends to be just a waste of money. SPF 30 on its own blocks 97% of harmful UVB rays. The key to all sunscreen is remembering to reapply. Ideally, sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours. However, sweat, water, and physical activity can diminish or shorten this window. If you plan to stay outdoors and be active, water-resistant sunscreen can help add time to your wear.

Be sure to check out the resources below to learn more about how to protect your melanin beauty.

American Academy of Dermatology

Skin Cancer Foundation

Melanoma Research Foundation


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