Black people need sunscreen too

Posted on March 29, 2014


Spring is here, and summer is fast approaching, which means your social calendar is about to explode with outdoor activities – family reunions, picnics, BBQ’s, beach holidays etc. This is probably one of the most important and “funnest” seasons of the year! Sunny days have a way of putting a skip in your step, brightening moods, and better still giving you that much needed Vitamin D.

Unfortunately, as you go skipping off on the beach in your itsy-bitsy-teeny-weeny-yellow-polkadot-bikini, you are perhaps prone to ignore that nagging voice that reminds you of the dangers of excessive sun exposure because….”well, I’m black and I don’t burn”

Yes, it is true that people with light skin have a higher chance of getting skin cancer than their dark skinned friends, but your dark skin is not a guarantee against skin cancer. Did you know that melanoma, the most common and most severe form of skin cancer, is deadliest in black people? This means that when people with dark skin, hair and eyes get skin cancer, they are more likely to die from it. Furthermore black people are less likely to look out for the telltale signs of skin cancer (e.g. large and irregular moles) and by the time something is detected, its usually too late.

Skin cancers account for 2 to 3 million new cases each year, making it the most common of all cancers! Those figures are outstanding for a cancer that could largely be prevented by taking better precautions while out in the sun. Therefore, here are the 3 S’s you should focus on in order to be savvy in the sun this season:

SPF: Ultraviolet rays (UVR) is divided into two major bands: UVA and UVB, both of which contribute to the risk of skin cancer. UVA’s are more closely linked to skin damage, while UVB’s are the most responsible for sunburn. The latter is where your SPF comes in; SPF refers to the amount of time before your skin burns and the ability of a sunscreen to block ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. e.g with an SPF 15, a person who burns after 30 mins is protected 15 times longer than if they weren’t wearing any sunscreen.

Don’t be caught up in the numbers game with your SPF; a high number doesn’t necessary correlate with a higher coverage. In fact, studies have shown that anything above SPF 30 which blocks 97% of UVB rays has negligible coverage and may just be costing you more money (SPF of 90’s and 100’s are just plain ridiculous). Instead, it is advisable to use a sunscreen with band UVA-fighting ingredients like avobenzone or Mexoryl SX. and go no lower than SPF 15 (93% coverage) or no higher than SPF 50 (98% coverage). There is no sunscreen that offers 100% protection, the key is to reapply it often for maximum coverage especially if you have been inside water.

Sunglasses: Your H&M sunglasses may look good, but may not be cutting it in the safety department. Wearing the right pair of sunglasses can protect your eyes from harmful UV rays and high-energy visible (HEV) light, which has been shown to be one of the causes of retina damage and cataracts. Since there are no federal standards for sunglasses, it is up to you to make sure the sticker on your sunglasses claims to block a specific percentage of UV (e.g. 90-99% UV absorbent) instead of just “UV absorbent” or “blocks UV”, which really means nothing in theory.

Also note that darker lenses don’t necessarily mean better UV protection, and in fact they may be more harmful than not wearing sunglasses at all because they can cause pupils to dilate and allow even more UV light into the eyes. Here’s the general rule: your sunglasses should be dark enough so you can’t see your eyes in the mirror, but light enough to see very well indoors.

Shade: It is advisable to seek the shade, especially between 10 AM and 4 PM, which is the high UV danger period. Even on cloudy days, the sun is strongest during those hours. Okay fine! I get that this may be pushing it, especially when it is perfect BBQ weather outside. But if you must be outdoors, do wear a wide brimmed hat to help cover your eyes, ears and head or wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing that protects a large area of your skin e.g long-sleeve shirts and pants. They make you look fashionable, and you are also well protected.