By Naomi Greenaway May 14, 2022
As the days become longer and the weather gradually gets hotter, humans crave the outside more than ever. We can’t wait to let our hair loose and be hugged by the sunshine’s warmth. Whilst most of us long for the feeling of the sun, some forget to pay attention to the most important thing…wearing sunscreen.
SPF (i.e., the technical term) stands for ‘Sun Protection Factor’. In simple terms, SPF is the number on a bottle of sunscreen. It may sound simple, but the SPF number is very important. It tells you how effective the product is at protecting you from potentially getting a sunburn. The number generally tends to range from 30-50. The higher the SPF number the higher level of protection it gives, the lower the SPF product, the lower level of protection it gives.
Whilst certified dermatologists have explained that all skin tones and all ages should use sunscreen daily, only 51% of Britons use a sunscreen during the summer. Within that percentage only 13% are black. This is a concerning number considering every race is at risk of premature ageing and skin cancer from the sun. So why do less than 4% of black people choose not to apply sunscreen at all during summer?
The first question on people’s mind: Why do I need to wear SPF when I’m a POC?
Okay so let’s break it down. Firstly, SPF should be worn by all skin tones because UV light can be dangerous and harmful.
Photo: Google image of how Sun rays affect skin by Comprehensive cancer centres
Sunscreen’s main job is to reduce the amount of UV rays that reach your skin. There are three types of UV ray which comes from the sun: UVC, UVB and UVA.
UVC rays are so short that they do not reach our skin. So, we do not need to worry about them too much.
Sunscreen’s SPF rating measures how much UVB rays people get. These wavelengths are longer than UVC and can cause you to burn. These wave lengths are also strongly associated with skin cancer. Although the waves do not go deep into the skin, they can cause premature ageing.
UVA rays are the LONGEST wavelengths. These cause you to burn less but cause prolonged tanning. They can contribute to melanoma (skin cancer), premature skin ageing and hyperpigmentation (a common skin care issue found in POC where skin tends to be darker in some areas).
However, a problem with UV ratings is the racial bias in sunscreen studies. Most studies have been done on people with white skin, who are melanin deprived. So, results may not be accurate. However, sunscreens are becoming more accessible for POC. There are now companies which are testing on POC and have created sunscreens with this in mind.
THE EFFECTS OF NOT WEARING SUNSCREEN
Photo: 69-year-old truck driver Bill McElligot and the effects of the sun on skin
This is 69-year-old truck driver Bill McElligot. His photo is commonly used within the skincare community to show the effects of not wearing sunscreen. For 28 years McElligot drove without wearing sunscreen and ended up with the left side of his face looking 20 years older than the right.
WHY DO POC NEED TO WEAR SUNSCREEN?
"Black don't crack", many of us have heard this statement before.
Whilst the quote may be a comforting rule which deters most POC from sunscreen, the logic behind it, is hugely flawed. There is a common misconception that the skin pigment melanin acts as a natural sunscreen, but this is overused as an excuse to completely miss out the sunscreen step all together.
Arguably, melanin is not enough to protect you from high levels of UVA light, especially during summer. However, it can be enough to protect you from incidental exposure. Therefore, the benefits of wearing sunscreen for preventing cancer and skin-aging is lower for people with darker skin.
The less melanin you have the less likely you are protected from the sun and even if you are darker toned one day your skin will crack. SPF is not just something you should wear in summer but all times of the year also, but we will discuss this another day!
To protect your skin the recommended amount of sunscreen is to apply “two-fingers worth” or two teaspoons. There is controversy whether people should frequently reapply sunscreen or not, but again we won’t discuss this.
Photos: Google images of the skin condition hyperpigmentation and how it affects POC
UVA tends to cause more pigmentation for POC. Although not a serious health issue, it can cause people to feel insecure about themselves. Guess how to prevent darker marks…you guessed it… wearing SPF.
Not only should POC wear sunscreen for these reasons but even if your skin is free from hyperpigmentation, but you still use expensive skincare, you may want to consider protecting your skin to maximise results.
OVERALL DOWNSIDES TO SUNSCREEN
Yes, there are downsides to sunscreen too.
1) For black people, sunscreen can leave a white ashy cast when applied to skin. This is because the ingredients in certain sunscreens have been historically designed for those with fairer skin.
2) Another downside is cost, also you must find the time and effort to apply the sunscreen. Scientists have also shown wearing sunscreen could lead to clogged pores, especially if acne prone. But do not panic there are sunscreen’s for everyone.
MINERAL V CHEMICAL SUNSCREENS
There are two different types of sunscreens to choose from mineral and chemical.
Mineral sunscreens (otherwise known as physical) are typically best for sensitive skin. They work by protecting the skin by physically acting as a barrier to reflect the sun’s rays.
However, chemical sunscreens do the opposite. They absorb the sun’s rays into the skin and form a chemical reaction which turns into non-damaging heat, typically designed for all skin types.
The choice of sunscreen is down to you. It can depend on your skin type and your skin concern. Typically, most POC tend to choose chemical sunscreens as these are less likely to leave a white cast (due to the nanoparticles being formulated with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide). But mineral sunscreen formulations are getting better!!
SPF CHOICES FOR POC
So, do POC really need to wear sunscreen? The simple answer is yes.
Just because you have a deeper complexion does not mean you are exempt from health conditions caused by the sun, such as skin cancer or chronic skin damage.
1) Sunscreen provides protection.
2) There are POC which have skin conditions like hyperpigmentation and sunscreen will prevent dark marks from getting darker.
3) POC are twice as likely to be told a late diagnosis of skin cancer due to not noticing earlier.
PLEASE REMEMBER YOUR SUNSCREEN THIS SUMMER.