Somewhere along the road we have all heard that one of the many blessings of darker skin are reduced chances of sunburn and minimal tanning potential. But seriously, do you really think the sun is racist like that?


People with darker skin are just as affected by the sun’s rays, which can lead to skin cancer, sun spots and uneven skin-tone. Just last week the Surgeon General issued a call to action citing skin cancer as the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States  with over five million people seeking treatment each year.

The best way to protect yourself against sunburns and skin cancer is to educate yourself and incorporate sunscreen and sunblock into your daily routine.

Before you make your way to the nearest sunscreen aisle you should read up on a few important facts to pick the right sunscreen for your skin.

1. UVA v. UVB sunrays

Ultraviolet A and Ultraviolet B are the two types of sun rays that can damage skin and lead to skin cancer. UVB rays burn your skin and are linked to increasing your chances of cancer while UVA light leads to more intense and deeper skin damage leading to disfigurement and loss in elasticity.

 

2. What is SPF?

SPF refers to sun protectant factor, and it is actually a measure of how quickly skin applied with sunscreen reddens compared to unprotected skin in the sun. Only UVB rays are accounted for in this measure.

 

3. Broad Spectrum is King.

Although SPF only measures UVB ray protection, the broad spectrum label indicates that your favorite sunscreen protects against both UVB and UVA light. WIN! So keep a lookout for this label when shopping.

 

4. How Much SPF?

Our regulatory agencies and health organizations cannot seem to agree on this one- with the FDA recommending an SPF of 15 and the American Academy of Dermatology sticking with an SPF of 30. Dr. Kavita Mariwalla, director of Mohs & Dermatologic Surgery at St. Luke’s Hospital in New York, recommends her patients with darker skin use SPF 30.

 

5. Anything Above SPF 100 Means–Nothing.

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation SPF 15 protects against 93% of incoming UVB rays and SPF 30 filters out 97%.  So with any SPF labels past 30 you are only getting a 1-2 percent more protection, and no sunscreen can protect against 100% of the rays.

 

6. Do not Skimp and Apply Often.

Reapply your sunscreen liberally throughout the day, especially if you’re outdoors during midday when the sun’s rays are the strongest.

 

7. Do not Forget Behind Your Ears, Face, Lips and Scalp.

These areas are prime targets for UV damage and easily forgotten between application. Make sure to apply liberally behind your ears and find a sensitive formula for your face. Your lips and scalp need protecting too, there are many lip balms and leave-in sprays that are double duty.

 

8. Sunscreen vs. Sunblock

The two are not the same. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, sunscreen protects your skin through a chemical process that absorbs UV rays and converts them. Sunblock uses ingredients as a physical barrier to deflect rays before they penetrate your skin.

 

9. Rethink Titanium-Based Products

If you want to avoid the dead-of-winter ashy look, steer clear of physical sunscreen and sunblock that are titanium-based. These leave a white, ashy look on your skin.

 

10. US and Sunscreen Quality

If you could not tell by the mass confusion that is SPF ingredient regulations and the usage of redness as a metric for effectiveness–the U.S. is lacking in sunscreen quality. In the U.S., sunscreens are treated as over-the-counter medicines, creating long lag times to approve and include superior ingredients that protect skin more effectively. The recent House-approved Sunscreen Innovation Act gives us a glimmer of hope that U.S. sunscreens will be on par with Europe and Canada.