You’ve likely heard time and time again that you need to wear sunscreen every single day. Personally, even though I’ve read (and written) numerous stories on the importance of using sunscreen, as a Black woman and beauty editor I’ve been let down by formulas that leave my melanated skin looking ashy, chalky or dry. Yet, I recognize that wearing SPF is key to protecting myself from both premature aging and worse, skin cancer.
Still, the rumor that “Black people don’t need to wear sunscreen” persists. So much so that I asked Dr. Sumayah Jamal, MD-PhD, a board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York, to clarify. “Melanin provides an SPF anywhere from a level of 1.5 to 4. While skin of color takes longer to burn, this does not mean that it cannot burn,” she explains. “SPF also only refers to UVB protection; however, UVA also damages skin.” To protect against both types of rays, Dr. Jamal recommends a broad-spectrum SPF of 30 or higher.
A broad-spectrum formula that you like enough to apply daily can be lifesaving. Skin cancer occurs in all skin tones, and “those with skin of color are more likely to die from the deadliest form of skin cancer called melanoma,” says Dr. Sonia Badreshia-Bansal, a board-certified dermatologist in California. Underestimating the risk contributes to the higher death rate among people of color, who “may not receive a thorough skin cancer screening due to this misconception,” Dr. Badreshia-Bansal says.
Which Ingredients to Look For (And Avoid)
When it comes to active ingredients, Dr. Jamal prefers physical sunscreens (zinc oxide and titanium dioxide) over chemical sunscreens (such as avobenzone). Physical sunscreens are typically less irritating to sensitive skin than chemical ingredients, but often leave a chalky cast which can become worse with sweating. “When I test physical [sunscreens] that show good transparency initially, I’ll put them on before a workout to determine if they also pass the ‘sweat test,’” Dr. Jamal says. If your skin isn’t sensitive to them, chemical sunscreens can provide a more transparent option (many popular formulas are made with a blend of both chemical and physical ingredients to offer the best of both worlds). Read more
Also read 8 Great Sunscreens for Skin of Color