We spoke to two doctors about the risk of skin cancer in darker skin tones and the SPFs they wear
It’s common knowledge that no matter your skin tone, you need to wear SPF all year round no matter the weather but when it comes to SPF for dark skin there’s still a lot to learn, say GP Dr Aziza Sesay and dermatology specialist GP Dr Sonia Khorana who teamed up on Instagram to talk about skin cancer in darker skin.
"There's a common misconception about dark-skinned people being immune to sunburn, tanning and skin cancer," says Dr Aziza Sesay. "The majority of these beliefs stem from the fact that those with dark skin have a higher proportion of melanin, which gives some natural protection (photoprotection) from UV radiation from the sun.
"This baseline SPF is not enough, in my opinion, to provide adequate sun protection," says Dr Sonia Khorana. "I would advise using sunscreen indoors, outdoors, rain, shine, winter and summer. Yes, we have more melanin but it isn’t stronger than the sun!"
Skin cancer in darker skin tones
Far from being immune to skin cancer, according to Dr Aziza, darker skin tones are more likely to be diagnosed with skin cancer at a later, more advanced stage when it is more difficult to treat, meaning prognosis is much poorer and death rates higher. "The reasons for this include symptoms being less easily visible/distinguishable on darker skin tones, unusual areas of skin cancer including palms, soles, fingernails, the inner surface of mouth and genitals, so they are often missed and a lack of awareness and continued misconceptions about the occurrence of skin cancer in this group."
How does UV affect darker skin?
People with dark skin can overproduce melanin which develops into pigmentation. "I see my patients with darker skin tones developing dark patches over time resulting in uneven skin tone," says Dr Sonia Khorana. "Many also notice worsening of existing pigmentation, melasma and more prominent dark circles."
The best SPF for dark skin tones
Dr Aziza recommends sunscreen that is SPF 30 or higher, broad-spectrum and water-resistant while Dr Sonia recommends chemical sunscreens for darker skin tones because they don't leave a white cast on dark skin.
"I would like to stress that both chemical and mineral sunscreens are okay and safe to use but I personally find chemical sunscreens better suited to darker skin tones if you want to avoid the white cast of mineral sunscreens," says Dr Sonia. "Having said that, more and more brands are now focusing on making mineral sunscreens that won’t leave a white cast."
Best budget suncream for dark skin: Soltan Protect & Moisturise Spray SPF50+, £4.50 for 200ml
"This is very reasonably priced and my favourite go-to," says Dr Aziza. "I use the kids’ version on my daughter, especially on high-temperature holidays. It’s lightweight, easy to apply and my daughter doesn't resist having it put on her body like some others."
Best face SPF for dark skin: La Roche-Posay Anthelios Invisible Fluid Sun Cream SPF50, £12 for 50ml
"This is another favourite of mine because it's ultralight but you do need to apply small amounts at a time to reduce the white cast that can occur in quite dark skin tones," says Dr Aziza.
Best anti-ageing SPF for dark skin: Frezyderm Sun Screen Velvet Face SPF50, £25.46 for 50ml
"This is great for darker skin tones; it has minimal white cast and promises to reduce wrinkles and ageing effects from the sun. It's lightweight and very matte as well as easy to apply plus it has a very high SPF protection," says Dr Aziza.
Best under makeup SPF for dark skin: Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen SPF40, £15 for 15ml
"This has a really nice texture, no smell and sits really nicely under makeup as it’s velvety and works well as a primer," says Dr Sonia Khorana
Best for midday top-ups: Garnier Ambre Solaire Sensitive Hydrating Face Sun Cream Mist SPF50, £6 for 75ml
"Applying this over your makeup doesn't disrupt your foundation and it's such good value for money and there's no white cast at all," says Dr Sonia.
Best mattifying SPF for dark skin: Omorovicza UV Mineral Shield SPF30, £78 for 100ml
"This is a mineral SPF with a really good matte finish. Definitely a great SPF for oily skin in my opinion," says Dr Sonia.
Best tinted SPF for dark skin: Ultrasun Face Tinted SPF30, £36 for 50ml
"I was introduced to this brand by my mum who swears by them," Dr Sonia tells us. "This leaves no white cast at all it gives such a nice dewy glow."