Yes, Black People Need Sunscreen Too!

 Model: Mikelya Fournier
 As a black person, I often find there is a lot of confusion around who "needs" to use sunscreen and who doesn’t. Growing up, my mom always slathered us in sunscreen before we spent extended periods in the sun, so it never occurred to me to not wear sunscreen when I knew I’d be in the sun. It wasn’t until I got older that I started hearing my friends saying that black people “don’t need sunscreen.” As you can imagine, this instantly set off alarms in my head as I began doing mental gymnastics to math out why black people, specifically, did not need sunscreen. Mind you, through my late teen and early adult years I was a lifeguard at a public outdoor pool. These pools were, almost always, located in predominantly black communities, where I never saw anyone but the other black lifeguards applying sunscreen. This created even more confusion for me as it was around this time that I began hearing black people saying that “black people don’t need sunscreen”. I knew for a fact that I had been sunburned while wearing sunscreen, so that meant that black people can get sunburned, and clearly the other black lifeguards knew that because we all applied our sunscreen throughout the day. I understood that the purpose of sunscreen is to help prevent sunburns, so with that knowledge, why would black people, specifically, not need sunscreen? Where did that come from? Who started that trend? I can’t say I ever understood the logic behind that statement, but it is something I have continued to hear over the years.

Now, this blog is not meant to shame anyone or make anyone feel bad for not knowing about the importance of sunscreen. My goal is, first and foremost, to provide accurate and factual information to help you better understand your skin so you can make your own choices in regard to the care of your skin. Regardless of the shade of your skin, you do need sunscreen.


What is sunscreen and what does it do? 

Sunscreen is an active ingredient in creams, lotions, sprays, and other skincare products that sits on the surface of your skin and reflects ultraviolet radiation (UV rays) away from your skin. UV rays are a form of non-ionizing radiation that is emitted by the sun and artificial sources like tanning beds. Knowing what non-ionizing radiation is not important, but knowing some of its sources can help you protect your skin. Radiation from the sun can cause all kinds of sun damage, including premature aging, basal and squamous (cells in different layers of your skin) cell skin cancer and melanoma. Sunscreen protects your skin by reflecting, scattering, and stopping the damaging UV rays before they can reach your skin.


How do I incorporate sunscreen into my skincare regimen?

Sunscreen should be applied daily (yes, even when it's cloudy or  when you spend all day indoors). Try to apply your sunscreen as part of your daytime skincare regimen to build a habit, or at least 30 minutes before sun  exposure. Sunscreen remains active for 2-hours, after  which point you should reapply. If the thought of  reapplying sunscreen every 2- hours is intimidating, I’m with  you. Personally, I don't find this  schedule conducive to my life, so I just apply in the morning as  part of my regimen. I also struggle with finding a sunscreen that's appropriate for me for reapplication. I’ve tried reapplying my sunscreen lotion, but because I have oily skin, it makes me break out. I've also tested out using spray on sunscreens- these worked really well. It allowed me to reapply without the breakouts, however, by the end of my day the product eventually made its way into my eyes and caused them to sting. I wear contacts, so this became unbearable. Instead, I try to protect my face using hats and sunglasses as best I can while I figure out a better way to reapply sunscreen. Find out what works for you in terms of reapplying sunscreen, but be sure to apply at least once a day.


Which sunscreen is right for you?

There are so many products out there containing sunscreen these days, unlike when I was a kid. I remember my first actual purchase as a kid was a bottle of sunscreen! I saved up money for weeks to purchase the purple Coppertone Kids Colorblock (any of my fellow 90s babies remember that product?) I saw in a commercial and had to have. I ended up purchasing the completely wrong product- I was so excited, I accidentally grabbed the normal Coppertone sunblock. As long as I can remember, lotion sunscreens have been a go-to for me, but now there are sprays, balms, and even make-up products containing sunscreen.

The first steps to determining which type of sunscreen is best for you is to consider the two types of sunscreen: chemical and physical. Chemical sunscreens absorb into the top layer of your skin upon application and react with your skin to absorb UV rays and convert them into energy before they can harm your skin. Chemical sunscreens are commonly found in products made for your face and sprays. Chemical sunscreens need time to absorb into your skin, so they should be applied at least 30 minutes prior to heading outdoors. 

Physical sunscreens (also known as natural or mineral sunscreens) make use of ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to protect your skin from the sun. Physical sunscreens sit on top of your skin and reflect UV rays. Physical sunscreens are thicker and may be more likely to leave a white cast on your skin, though most companies work very hard to reduce the appearance of the cast.

Generally, chemical sunscreens provide more UV protection than physical sunscreens. They're also better at resisting water and sweat. Both chemical and physical have their pros and cons, our advice is to try out both to see which you prefer.


Does using a higher SPF matter?

At minimum, you should be using sunscreen with SPF 30. As the SPF number increases, your protection from UV rays increases, but it's in very small increments. SPF 30 protects you from about 97% of UV rays, while SPF 50 blocks you from about 98%. Anything over that is not only more difficult to find, but is also not necessary to properly protect your skin especially considering that all sunscreens have a protection life of 2 hours.


What should I avoid when choosing a sunscreen?

There are a lot of things to look for when choosing a sunscreen. The most important aspect of sunscreens you want to be wary of is the ingredients, but there are also things like formulations and production processes that you may want to take note of. Often these considerations can be carried across all beauty products, however, we realize memorizing a list of ingredients to avoid is completely unrealistic and unreasonable, so some sunscreen companies use helpful labeling to let customers know what is not in their products. Some key words you can look for are:

  • Reef friendly- this means that the product does not contain Oxybenzones, Octinoxates, and other harmful chemicals that destroy coral reefs. Chemicals with "benzene/ benzone" as an ending can also cause skin irritation.
  • Broad spectrum- this means that the sunscreen will protect you from UVA and UVB rays. UVB rays are stronger than UVA rays and are more likely to cause sunburn and skin cancer.
  • Cruelty free- this means that the product is not tested on animals. At The Regimen Company, we do not support animal testing in products and all of our products are cruelty free. Many beauty companies have stopped testing their products on animals.
  • Non-GMO (genetically modified organism)- if you're looking to go organic, you want to look for the Non-GMO label. There are several studies on the potentially harmful effects of GMOs in food and skincare. In the US, GMO labeling is not required, so if this is something you want to consider avoiding, just keep that in mind.
  • Parabens and Phthalates- these are preservatives commonly found in beauty products. Parabens and Phthalates are man-made chemicals with several studies suggesting they can cause a lot of damage to our bodies, including the disruption of hormone function. These can be harder to identify because their names are very complex, however, parabens generally have "paraben" or "para" somewhere in the name, while phthalates will usually be a 3 or 4 letter acronym to identify their structure. Fortunately, many companies realize that customers have expressed a preference for products without these icky ingredients, so will proudly label that their products do not contain one, the other, or both!

This is not an exhaustive list by any means, but hopefully it's a good starting point in helping you decide which sunscreen is right for you. 


We hope this guide was helpful! Let us know in the comments what topics you'd like us to explore in future blogs and follow us on our other platforms for more skincare tips and tricks. 


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