Contrary to popular belief, people with dark skin still need to use sun protection. While darker-skinned individuals, like those with skin types V and VI, can stay safely in the sun for longer than lighter-skinned individuals, sunburn isn’t out of the question. In fact, 10.9% of black 18-29 year old Americans surveyed by CDC said they experienced a sunburn in 2010¹. Sometimes a sunburn on dark skin does not appear red, but rather tight, painful, or hot to the touch². It’s important to protect your skin from the sun, regardless of your skin colour, to minimize your risk of sun damage³. Check the ingredients of your sunscreen – if you see zinc oxide or titanium oxide, it may leave a chalky film on dark skin. Sunscreens with oxybenzone should not.

Melanin is a naturally occurring pigment in the body which is responsible for the colour of your skin. The more melanin you have, the darker your skin. Melanin offers some natural protection against UVB radiation. Dark skin is said to have a natural SPF of 13.4, whereas light skin is said to have a natural SPF of only 3.4³. But there’s a caveat: even sunscreen with an SPF of 15 (offering more protection than naturally dark skin) blocks out only 93% of sunburn-causing UVB rays⁴. This means that by skipping the sunscreen, even if you have dark skin, you’re still exposing your skin to some harmful UVB rays.

If your skin looks chalky after applying sunscreen, chances are you’ve used a product containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. These are known as mineral or physical sunscreens, and while they can be great for people with sensitive skin, they can leave a white film on your skin. To avoid this, try a chemical sunscreen instead. But don’t let the word “chemical” scare you – these products are tested by the FDA and are safe to use as directed. Check out our previous post to read more about sunscreens.

All in all, everyone, regardless of skin type, should take care to protect their skin from the sun, considering that a single tan or sunburn increases your risk of developing skin cancer³. Recommended sun protection varies based on the UV index in your current location and your unique skin type. Use Sun Index to get personalized advice on how to keep your skin safe while outdoors.

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2012). Sunburn and Sun Protective Behaviors Among Adults Aged 18–29 Years — United  States, 2000–2010. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 61(18):317-322. Retrieved August 8, 2016
  2. Adkins, J. (2016). African Americans: Sunburn Risk and Skin Cancer. Retrieved July 28, 2016
  3. Gohara, M. and Perez, M. (2009). Skin Cancer and Skin of Color. Retrieved July 28, 2016
  4. Wang, S. Q. (2010). ASK THE EXPERT: Does a higher-SPF (sun protection factor) sunscreen always protect your skin better. Retrieved July 28, 2016