Dear Black Man, You Need Sunscreen

Dear Black Man,

Use sunscreen, please.

We know that black don’t crack, but you need to take care of it. Using sunscreen is one of those things that confuses most black people or people with melanin-rich skin in general. The idea of getting sunburnt seems wild. That’s something that only happens to people with lighter skin tones. But that’s not true. Being overexposed to sunlight creates many risks for people with melanin-rich skin: the risk of cancer, excessive ageing as well as hyperpigmentation. The biggest issue is that having a darker skin tone increases the risks of ignoring the signs of these problems, as it can be hard to spot.

What’s the risk?

When the sun shines on your skin, the skin becomes exposed to ultraviolet radiation, a.k.a. UV rays. Too much exposure to these rays leads to a lot of stress in skin cells that can cause the cells to mutate genetically or die. This mutation or death increases the risks of cancer and also accelerates the rate of skin ageing.


Though male skin is generally thicker than female skin, it tends to begin a process of thinning after the age of 20. At the same time, long exposure to the sun transforms or damages skin cells. Both effects mean that long exposure to the sun can lead to harsher ageing of skin in men, particularly in the form of deeper wrinkles.

For example, a study conducted in Japan found that men had deeper wrinkles than women in their region. And the depth of those wrinkles was closely influenced by the amount of time spent under the sun.

Wait… there’s also the risk of skin cancer

Do you know Bob Marley died of skin cancer? He apparently had a growth under a toenail, but it went unnoticed and continued to grow. Long exposure to the sun can cause this risk, damaging skin cells beyond the point of return and allowing the growth of cancerous cells.

So how does the sun affect the skin?

There are three types of ultraviolet rays emitted by the sun: UVA, UVB… and you guessed right, UVC. UVC doesn’t affect us as it is absorbed by the earth. But UVA and B, those are the ones that can affect us. Exposure to UVA can cause wrinkles while UVB can lead to tanning and burns. Both of them can lead to cancer in the end.

Now, how do you protect yourself?

There are many ways to protect your skin from the damages caused by sunlight. Two simple ways of doing so would be by using protective shades and by using sunscreen.

You can wear a hat, stand under a tree, or stay indoors all day. Using sunscreen, however, protects you from sun rays. Regardless of the season, the sun is always out!

Choosing the Right Sunscreen

  1. Ingredients: Look for sunscreens that provide broad-spectrum protection.
  2. SPF Ratings: Understand that SPF 30 blocks about 97% of UVB rays, while SPF 50 blocks about 98%. Higher SPF doesn't always mean significantly better protection.
  3. Application: For effective protection, it's advisable to apply sunscreen regularly. A good routine includes applying sunscreen to your face and neck twice daily, and then to the rest of your body. Apply about half a teaspoon of sunscreen to your face and reapply every two hours, especially after sweating or swimming.
  4. Vitamin D Balance: While protecting your skin is crucial, also consider your Vitamin D needs. Dietary sources and supplements can help maintain adequate levels.
  5. Clothing and Accessories: Complement sunscreen use with protective clothing like long-sleeved shirts, wide-brimmed hats, and UV-blocking sunglasses.
  6. Sunscreen for Different Skin Types: Choose sunscreen formulations that suit your skin type – gel for oily skin, cream for dry skin, and fragrance-free for sensitive skin.
  7. Myths and Misconceptions: Remember, sunscreen is essential for every skin type, regardless of color.
  8. Environmental Impact: Opt for sunscreens that are friendly to marine life and the environment.
  9. Product Recommendations: Look for products specifically recommended for melanin-rich skin.

Types of Sunscreen and How to Use Them

There are two main types of sunscreen: organic (sometimes referred to as chemical) and inorganic.

The organic sunscreens work by absorbing UV rays, while the inorganic ones, often containing minerals like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, deflect the sun rays from entering the skin. It's important to note that some organic sunscreens can be unstable and may lose their effectiveness after about 2 hours of exposure to the sun. Therefore, choosing a stable and effective formulation is key.

When selecting a sunscreen, aim for a high SPF, like SPF 30 or 50. This level of protection blocks 97% and 98% of UVB rays, which are primarily responsible for sunburn and contribute to skin cancer. However, it's worth noting that beyond SPF 50, the increase in UVB protection is marginal.

Also note that using sunscreen significantly improves your skin's defense against UV damage, but it's not a complete safeguard. It's estimated that sunscreen can reduce the risks of skin damage by about 55%, not 100% (according to "Cosmeceuticals for Men" by Davi de Lacerda). This reduction is significant but should be complemented with other protective measures like wearing hats, seeking shade, and wearing UV-protective clothing.

Application Routine

Benefits of Using Sunscreen

  • Lower Risks of Skin Cancer: Regular sunscreen use can significantly reduce your risk of developing skin cancers, including melanoma and non-melanoma types.
  • Prevents Sunburn: Sunscreen helps protect your skin from the immediate damage of UVB rays, which cause sunburn.
  • Reduces Photoaging: Regular use of sunscreen can slow down the skin's aging process, reducing the appearance of wrinkles and maintaining a more youthful appearance.
  • Management of Pigmentation Disorders: Sunscreen can be beneficial in managing conditions like vitiligo, albinism, melasma, and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, as noted by Diffey and colleagues.

Remember, while melanin-rich skin does provide some natural protection against the sun's harmful effects, it's not enough to prevent all potential damage. Incorporating sunscreen into your daily routine, along with other sun-protective measures, is a critical step in maintaining healthy skin.

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