Do People with Dark Skin Need Sunscreen?
people with dark skin need sunscreen

It’s a common question: Do people with dark skin need sunscreen? Unfortunately, many people are under the misperception that dark skin doesn’t need protection from the sun. This is a dangerous belief, however, and it actually leads to melanoma diagnoses that come too late. And while melanoma isn’t the most common form of skin cancer, it is the most lethal.
Sunscreen for dark skin isn’t as straightforward as sunscreen for light skin, and that could be part of the reason these misperceptions are so prevalent. Find out the ins and outs of sun protection for dark skin.

Do People with Dark Skin Need Sunscreen?

The short answer to whether or not people with dark skin need sunscreen is YES. But it’s worth a look at why this is even a question.

People with darker skin actually do have a built-in SPF, giving them a slightly added protection from sun damage. A study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology showed that the melanin in black skin provides an SPF that is somewhat equivalent to 13.4. In comparison, white skin has a 3.4 SPF protection.

The higher content of melanin in darker skin means darker-skinned people experience a decreased UVR sensitivity and UVR-induced DNA damage compared to lighter skin. But sunburns are still found, even in darkly pigmented skin. And all skin types — from very light to very dark — have been documented to show skin damage from sunburns.

In addition, people with dark skin don’t always feel or see a sunburn in the same way as those with lighter skin. It’s not always obvious to know skin damage is happening. UV light exposure is the culprit in most melanoma cases, so if you spend any time underneath the sun, you’re increasing your chances of developing skin cancer — no matter the color of your skin.

The Dangers of Not Knowing About the Dangers

When skin cancer is diagnosed in people of color, it has usually progressed to an advanced stage. In fact, one study found that 26 percent of Hispanics and 52 percent of African Americans who were diagnosed with skin cancer were in advanced stages. This is in comparison to 16 percent in Caucasians.

This is alarming, especially because the proper knowledge could prevent these skin cancers from ever developing to advanced — and less curable — stages.

Why Is Cancer Diagnosed So Much Later in Darker Skin?

Unfortunately, the early warning signs of skin cancer often go unnoticed in people with darker skin.

For one thing, skin cancer looks different in different skin types. In people of color, many basal cell carcinomas actually tend to be pigmented. Squamous cell carcinomas in people of color also end up being missed, and instead are associated with other issues like non-healing wounds or immune suppression.

Plus, the areas of the body that tend to develop melanoma are different in people of color. In Caucasian people, melanoma tends to develop in areas that are exposed to the sun. But in people of color, it shows up in areas of the body that AREN’T often exposed to the sun — on the palms, toenails, fingernails, and the sole of the foot

Unfortunately, without proper education, these signs are too often missed.  

What SPF Should You Use for Dark Skin?

So how should dark skin be properly protected? First of all, a sunscreen with a minimum SPF 30 should be worn every day. And everyone, regardless of skin color, should protect themselves in these ways:

  • Seek shade when outdoors
  • Wear sun-protective clothing
  • Wear a sunscreen with SPF 30, and reapply every two hours when spending time outdoors (It should take about 2 tablespoons to cover your whole body)
  • Wear sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat when outdoors
  • Wear shoes that cover the entire foot

Be Observant

You should do regular self-checks, paying close attention to your palms, fingernails, toenails, and soles of your feet. When you check for moles, pay attention to any that fall under the categories in this acronym:

Asymmetrical
Borders that are uneven
Color (more than one)
Diameter greater than a pencil eraser
Evolving or changing mole

If you notice a mole that is alarming, see your dermatologist. And whether or not you find suspicious moles, see your dermatologist every year for a more thorough check. And remember – some doctors miss the signs of skin cancer in people with darker skin. If your doctor says you’re fine, but you feel like something isn’t right, get a second opinion.

For SPF 30 broad spectrum protection that is non-irritating, try Deter Natural Mineral SPF 30 Broad Spectrum Sunscreen.