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Dark-skinned Beauties: Do You Really Need a Sunscreen?

Dark-skinned Beauties: Do You Really Need a Sunscreen?

If you're caring for African American skin, do you really need a sunscreen? The short answer is ‘yes’, but before we address that conclusion, let’s examine the basic science behind protecting your skin. UVA and UVB Rays The sunlight that reaches the Earth’s surface consists of two types of harmful rays: long wave ultraviolet A (UVA) and short wave ultraviolet B (UVB). Concerns about the erosion of the earth’s protective ozone layer also reinforce the increasing need to protect against these rays. UVA rays account for 95% of all UV radiation and penetrate the skin more deeply than UVB rays. UVA rays cause skin aging (photoaging), age spots and wrinkling, and - more insidiously – play a major part in the initiation and worsening of skin cancer. UVA rays are present with equal intensity regardless of location, time of year – and they can penetrate clouds and glass. UVB rays are more intense than UVA rays and in addition to activating photoaging, its rays are associated with burning. The intensity of UVB rays varies by season, location and time of day, and rays do not significantly penetrate glass. Most dermatologists advise that the most damaging UVB rays occur between 10am and 4pm. Skin Cancer Concerns Black and dark-skinned people are significantly less likely to develop skin cancer than their fair-skinned or white counterparts. According to a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC), in 2012, 16 in 100,000 white females developed skin cancer, compared to only 1 in 100,000 black females. However, when a skin melanoma (a cancerous tumor) is discovered in African-Americans (typically on the head or neck), it is often more advanced and/or fatal because the patient is more likely to not have been a sunscreen user. That's a good reason to make sunscreen for black skin a priority. Sunscreen Ratings Sunscreens are classified by an SPF number. SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor; the number refers to the cream’s ability to deflect UVB rays only, and is calculated by comparing the amount of time needed to burn sunscreen-protected skin versus unprotected skin. The best sunscreens are defined as being Broad Spectrum sunblocks, which means they effectively protect against both UVA and UVB rays. Most dermatologists agree that because of their greater melanin levels, African-Americans and other dark-skinned peoples have a natural in-built SPF13.4 protection (paler whiter skin has about 3.4), with everyone else fitting somewhere along the spectrum. However, no-one’s natural SPF is enough to ward off skin damage so black people, generally, should wear at least a SPF 15 sunscreen daily. Black Skin Care: Choosing a Sunscreen If you're selecting sunscreen for black skin, here are four key questions to ask.
  • What kind of climate are you dealing with? You can get sun damage in any climate, but if you are living or spending time in a hot, tropical location, sunscreen is crucial. Apply SPF 30 as a minimum. Be advised, though, that UVB rays can also be very damaging at high altitudes and on reflective surfaces like snow or ice, so if you’re embarking on a skiing getaway, pack the sunscreen – those white slopes will bounce back up to 80% of the sun’s rays, which means you’re getting a double dose.
  • What are your daily habits? Do you walk to work? Drive in the sun? Live or work at the beach? Work outdoors in all types of weather? For black people, 30 minutes of unprotected sun exposure daily is not damaging and is in fact beneficial in terms of preserving levels of Vitamin D. Darker skins however, are more prone to hyperpigmentation and sun exposure can exacerbate the problem, making it harder to get rid of dark marks. Black women are also vast consumers of toning and bleaching creams. The use of these creams (whether doctor-supervised or otherwise) makes our skin vulnerable, so it is essential to apply sunblock over these treated areas. It is easy to neglect the delicate skin of your chest, and your hands (knuckles, in particular - while gripping a steering wheel, for example - may take the brunt of sun exposure).
  • What is your skin type? Are you acne prone? Dermatologists advise that many over-the-counter sunscreens – especially those that claim to be ‘water resistant’ - contain products that can irritate acne-prone skin. In some cases, they are hard to wash off, leading to over-cleansing - further aggravating acne and the cycle of hyperpigmentation . Look for UVA/UVB sunscreens that are oil-free, or better yet, consult your dermatologist for a medical grade formulation. Mineral sunscreens, which contain titanium dioxide and zinc oxide to combat UVA/UVB rays, can also clog pores. (If you have had breakouts from mineral foundations/powders, you may want to consider avoiding mineral sunscreens.)
  • What is your complexion/skin tone/skin texture? This is key. Black people’s skin comes in an astonishing wide range of shades and textures, so what absorbs wonderfully into your sister’s skin may not absorb as wonderfully on you. SPF creams which contain significant amounts of zinc or titanium oxide are usually thick and very white. When applied to dark skin, they often leave behind an unattractive, blue/grey residue; and - irritatingly – if applied under your favorite foundation may sabotage your finished look.
Ultimately, we black women (folk) should embrace sunscreen use as a two-pronged strategy: to ward off skin cancer, but more importantly, as part of our anti-aging/beauty routine to love and protect that beautiful dark skin we’re in. That's it for this week. As always ... Dedicated to Your Beauty Juliette Samuel Esthetician/Author/Publisher Nyraju Skin Care
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