The sun’s UV rays can have a damaging, if not deadly, effect on skin. That’s why we diligently slather sunscreen all over ourselves. But darker skin tones don’t seem to be as affected by the sun as lighter skin tones. So, does this mean darker skin tones don’t need to wear sunscreen? We spoke with four Australian skin and sun care experts to get to the bottom of which skin tones need to wear sunscreen, and why.
UV radiation from the sun consists of UVA and UVB rays, and you probably want to socially distance yourself from both.
Paige Preston, Chair of Cancer Council’s Skin Cancer Committee, highlights that UVA rays penetrate deeply into the skin causing genetic damage to cells, photo-ageing (wrinkling and blotchiness) and a weakened immune system.
Meanwhile UVB rays penetrate into the epidermis (the top layer of the skin) causing damage to the cells. “UVB is responsible for sunburn, a significant indicator of the damage likely to cause skin cancer,” says Paige.
Melanin is the pigment that gives skin colour. The more melanin you have, the darker your skin is.
“Melanin almost acts like an inbuilt SPF, offering some protection against UVB rays,” says Ava Matthews, co-founder of Ultra Violette.
Dr Michelle Wong, a Science and Beauty Educator, agrees, noting that dark skin can have an approximate Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of about 15.
The old saying goes ‘black don’t crack’ – but what they didn’t tell you is that UV rays will still come after your melanin rich skin.
“Lighter skinned people are more prone to burning, skin cancer and wrinkles, while darker skinned people are more prone to pigmentation,” says Michelle.
She also notes that the link between skin cancer and sun exposure is not well established for darker skin.
Alana Kennedy, founder of Ochre Sun and a proud Aboriginal Waanyi Kalkadoon woman, explains that sunscreen works by combining organic and inorganic active ingredients that protect the skin against the sun’s rays, “like a bullet proof vest.”
Given that lighter skin tones are more prone to burning and skin cancer, should darker skin tones wear sunscreen?
All four experts say yes, particularly to protect against hyperpigmentation, dark spots, melasma, discolouration and sagging.
“Although dark skin does offer more natural protection from the sun’s harmful rays than light skin, no one is immune to the damage caused by the sun,” says Alana.
Ava reiterates that the sun doesn’t discriminate. “We are all impacted in different ways but impacted regardless of the colour of our skin.”
Paige and Michelle also highlight that regardless of skin tone, sunscreen should be worn when the UV Index is 3 or above. Which is basically all the time in Australia (damn you, glorious but harmful Aussie sun!)
Sunscreen often leaves an unsightly white cast on darker skin… kind of like the showbiz industry.
Thankfully, our experts have you covered! To avoid the white cast on your skin, Michelle suggests staying away from products that contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.
For Alana, Ochre Sun is a winner as it dries clear on the skin, is lightweight and is SPF 50+ (the Cancer Council recommends using sunscreen that is SPF 30+). Alana’s other dark skin friendly sunscreen recommendations include black girl sunscreen, Arbonne CC cream and Rationale B3-T tinted superfluid.
Ava advises that sunscreen is worn daily and recommends Ultra Violette’s Queen Screen. “It is basically invisible on skin once applied and also is SPF 50+.”
So, no matter how much melanin is in your skin, slather on your SPF every damn day so your skin thrives. Trust us, elderly you will thank young you for it.
Skin prep: Embryolisse Lait-Crème Concentré Moisturiser and Egyptian Magic All Purpose Skin Cream. Makeup: Fenty Beauty Pro Filt’r Soft Matte Longwear Foundation, Fenty Beauty Pro Filt’r Instant Retouch Concealer, Anastasia Beverly Hills Brow Wiz, MAC Cosmetics for cheeks and lips. Hair: Kevin Murphy Hair Resort and Kevin Murphy Young Again Oil. Body: Jergens Body Oil and Egyptian Magic All Purpose Skin Cream. Nails: OPI.