Yes our melanin protects us a little, but not enough. Here’s why every skin tone needs to be vigilant about SPF
There are certain beauty myths that, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary, refuse to go away - that toothpaste is a safe spot buster, pricier products are better...and that people with darker skin tones don’t need to slap on the sunscreen. This couldn’t be further from the truth. UVA and UVB rays are colour-blind in their effects, yet not enough of us are aware of that.
My personal experiences seem to suggest that this common misconception stems from a belief that our darker pigment provides us with some form of in-built protection. It does to a degree, but by no means should it be relied on as our sole line of defence. “Melanin affords a low degree of sun protection of approximately SPF13, but that in itself is not enough and gives a false perception that sunscreen is not required,” explains aesthetician and Black Skin Directory founder , Dija Ayodele. “Like all skin tones, black skin can experience burning and ageing when subjected to UVA/UVB rays without adequate sun protection.”
From a premature ageing perspective, the consequences of cumulative unprotected sun exposure include fine lines, wrinkles and hyperpigmentation. Even more troubling though is the effect that lack of sun awareness can have on the early diagnosis of skin cancer. As Dija highlights:
“Research shows that while darker skin tones are less likely to develop skin cancers like melanoma, they are more likely to die from it, owing to the lack of education within our communities around wearing protection, checking the body for skin irregularities and seeking medical advice around these irregularities.”
A daily SPF should be a skincare staple for all people of colour in Dija’s opinion. What should you look for? Look for a sunscreen that offers broad spectrum UVA (the rays that cause premature ageing) and UVB (the rays that cause burning) protection. If you’re worried about it leaving a white cast, fret not, today’s SPFs boast lighter, more sophisticated textures and formulations.
With regards to numbers, look for an SPF of 30 and above for the greatest amount of protection. “As a rule, SPF30 should be sufficient for most skin types, but remember to reapply every two hours especially after swimming and ensure the sunscreen is in date,” says Dr Stephanie Munn, dermatologist at Bupa Health Clinics . “SPF30 means that for someone who has very sensitive skin, and goes red after five minutes of sitting in the sun, will be protected from burning for 30 times longer so, 150 minutes. However, if you’re sweating, have gone swimming or wiped your skin with a towel, you may need to reapply more often.”
6 of the best sunscreens for darker skin tones
Dija’s top picks
Clinique Mineral Sunscreen Fluid for Face SPF30, £22 for 30ml
Lightweight and comfortable on skin, this zero-residue, oil-free pick suits a wide range of skin types.
The Body Shop Skin Defence Multi-Protection Essence SPF50 PA++++, £17 for 40ml
This pick’s milk-to-water formula is ideal for the summer months. It also contains red algae extract and vitamin C to brighten too.
We also rate
Elemis Daily Defence Shield SPF30 PA+++, £39.10 for 40ml
Enriched with coconut and jojoba oils, this super-light sun shield leaves skin soft and hydrated.
La Roche-Posay Anthelios XL Ultra-Light Fluid SPF50+, £16.50 for 50ml
This has been a favourite of mine for years thanks to its weightless and non-greasy finish.
Ultrasun Face Anti-Ageing and Anti-Pigmentation Sun Protection SPF50+, £30 for 50ml
This works a treat for drier skin types thanks to its richer texture and formula.
Murad City Skin SPF50 PA ++++, £46.75 for 50ml
This silky textured number contains a peachy colour-correcting tint to leave skin glowing. Dija and I are also fans of the brand’s Invisiblur Perfecting Shield SPF30 PA+++, £51, which doubles up as a mattifying blurring primer too. Genius.