There are a lot of myths and misconceptions floating around when it comes to sunscreen use and sun protection in general. One of the more pressing questions is whether sunscreen for melanated skin is necessary or not. So, is darker skin vulnerable to sun damage?
The simple answer is yes—people with darker skin tones need sunscreen just as much as anyone else. If you're curious about how this myth came to be, however, you're not alone. Read on to learn what melanin is, how it works, and the misconception that those with darker skin don't need sun protection.
What Is Melanin?
Melanin is a natural pigment produced in cells called melanocytes that gives your skin color. There are two types of melanin that produce color in your hair, eyes, and skin: eumelanin, a pigment associated with dark tones like brown and black, and pheomelanin, a pigment associated with tones like red and yellow.
How much melanin you naturally have is mostly decided by your genetics. Other factors that can determine melanin levels include hormones, age, inflammation, skin pigment disorders, and exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light.
How Do Darker Skin Tones React to Sun Exposure?
The relationship between darker skin and UV rays is complex. People with Black and brown skin get sunburn less frequently than their pale-skinned counterparts, and those with lighter natural skin color are at greater risk for skin cancer.
However, having more melanin is not a replacement for sunscreen. Although lighter skin is at greater risk of developing skin cancer, the mortality rate of melanoma is higher in those with darker skin. This is likely because people with darker skin are often diagnosed at later stages, and early detection is key to skin cancer survival.
Does Darker Skin Need Sunscreen?
The question of whether you need sunscreen for melanated skin may be, in part, due to inadequate educational resources. People of color often deal with systemic racism in health care, putting them at an inherent disadvantage due to the biases baked into the institution. For example, there may be a very limited number or total lack of images in medical textbooks depicting skin conditions on Black and brown skin. Among other consequences, this can make diagnosis more difficult. The fact that the majority of Dermatologists are light-skinned themselves doesn't help, either.
Although melanin does play a role in protecting the skin from sun damage, it's a complete myth that those with darker skin don't need sun protection. So, do Black people need sunscreen? The answer is an enthusiastic yes.
How Do You Protect Melanated Skin from Sun Damage?
The best layer of protection is to wear sunscreen daily and follow best sunscreen practices. You should be putting sunscreen on at least 30 minutes before you go outside each and every day, and reapply every two hours. The Skin Cancer Foundation suggests 1 ounce of sunscreen for the entire body, including typically forgotten areas such as the ears, back of the neck, and eyelids.
One of the issues that people with Black and brown skin run into with sunscreen is the noticeable white cast that it leaves behind on darker skin tones. Luckily, there are several great formulations made for darker skin that blend in effortlessly. Take the time to find one that best suits you and your daily routine. This way, you can put your mind at ease knowing your skin is protected and your inner glow can shine through.