Sunscreen is the most important step in your daily skincare routine. I always tell clients everything we work with in the salon and the products they use at home will not give them the optimal results if they are skipping this essential step, especially considering the climate we live under!
Applying sunscreen is non-negotiable irrespective of the weather forecast or your skin tone. UV (ultraviolet) rays are present even during those cloudy days, which is why it’s recommended you apply your SPF even during those grey days as well. Contrary to popular belief, black and other people of colour do need to apply sunscreen as much as those of a fairer complexion. Though the risk of skin cancer is much lower in African skin compared to white skin, black skin is still equally vulnerable to the other side effects of the sun’s harsh rays.
What UVA & UVB?
Broad spectrum is what one should be looking out for when making the purchase of a sunscreen. Broad spectrum protection means protection from the two forms of Ultraviolet light that can affect the skin after exposure – UVA and UVB.
UVA has a longer wave that penetrates into the thickest layer of your skin, the dermis layer. This is what’s also referred to as the “living layer of your skin as it contains the blood vessels, collagen, fibroblasts, elastin and other cells which maintain the integrity and youthfulness of the skin. Damage to these cells results in
- Sagging skin
- Break down of collagen
- Dry skin
UVB rays have a shorter wave and are responsible for sunburn, which is the burning of the top layer of the skin. This leads to:
- Premature ageing
- DNA damage causing premature ageing can all be a result of UVB exposure.
Whilst melanin does protect against some UV rays, it doesn’t protect us against all. Sun burn does happen to us and our melanin is usually the reason why skin cancer is detected at a late and possibly fatal stage.
How To Choose A Sunscreen
The golden rule when choosing a sunscreen is selecting anything between SPF 30 and 50, what do these numbers mean? The PA rating is a system ranking sunscreens based on the amount of protection they can provide from UVA rays. It basically indicates the amount of time you can stay under direct exposure to the sun without getting UV damage, e.g. SPF 15 = 150 minutes burning. It’s recommended that you reapply your sunscreen throughout the day, especially when directly exposed to the sun’s rays. Factor 30 will block out about 97% of UV rays whereas SPF 50 will block out about 98% and give you a bit more time before experiencing sun burn.
No More Ashy Melanin
Sunscreens have gotten a bad rap for leaving a white, pasty film on the skin but with modern technologies, newer formulations have created more brown skin friendly sunscreens which blend in with all skin tones. Looking grey and ashy is no longer an excuse to not layer up. Physical sunscreens were responsible for that white residue as they contain titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. New physical formulations have been micronized by grinding larger particles sizes into smaller sizes that don’t leave white residues on the skin making it more aesthetically acceptable. Physical sunscreens protect the skin by sitting on top and reflecting the UV rays off the surface of the skin. This is where the term sunblock originated from however sunscreen and sunblock is pretty much one and the same thing. Physical sunscreens are ideal for sensitive and reactive skin so they’re a great pick if you are prone to irritation. Chemical sunscreens protect the skin by absorbing UV rays and generally have a more translucent finish. The absorption of UV can increase heat in the skin which may cause irritation on rosacea skin. There’s also combination sunscreens which have both physical and chemical properties.
Photosensitivity is caused by products and treatments which make the skin more vulnerable to UV damage. These include chemical peels, lasers, Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA), Beta Hydroxys Acids (BHA) as well as retinol. All these are very safe and effective in treating various indications however sunscreen usage is imperative to make sure that you get the best and safest results from these super ingredients. Post inflammatory pigmentation and scarring can occur in the case of photosensitivity without SPF protection. Black and brown skins are more at risk of hyperpigmentation especially when the skin is exposed to trauma and UV rays.
Sunscreen helps protect against UVA and UVB rays but it may not protect the body completely which, is why we do not recommended laying under the sun. It is possible to get a tan while using sunscreen even when ensuring to reapply sunscreen throughout the day. A tan is the body’s natural protective response to UV – evidence that there’s been skin damage due to excessive melanocyte (your pigment producing cells, responsible for your complexion) activity as a result of UV exposure.
Sunscreen For Every Skin Type
There’s a sunscreen for all skin types, oil free and matte finish textures for your oily and acne prone skin and cream-based SPF’s for dry skin as well as lotion like products for your combination skin. SPF in make up does not give you adequate protection as you do not apply enough of a cosmetic product to get the full SPF factor of the product. Layering up SPF also does not work, factor 15 in your foundation plus and factor 15 in your moisturizer does not give you SPF 30. It is also recommended that you use a stand-alone sunscreen vs a 2 in 1 product because the efficacy of SPF factor or moisturizing properties are lost when trying to combine these two products. You’ll always get the most of a product when it has a single function.
Sunscreen should be part of your daily routine, whether going about your day or enjoying the outdoors under direct exposure. There’s a product for every skin type and lifestyle. It is also important to note the sunscreen or sunblock do not prevent skin tanning or burning, exposure to the sun will brown melanated skin even more, but melanin is for Africa, the place of the Sun, melanated skin tolerates the effects of the sun better.
By Zukiswa Khoza.
Your skin is the largest organs on your body, it serves as the first line of defence against extrinsic factors such as toxins, bacteria and viruses. It also prevents water loss, regulates our temperature and gives us our sense of touch. Skin also reflects overall health as disruption to ones health may manifest on the skin as irritation and disease. This precious organ also gives us our skin tone, melanin (pigment) is produced by melanocytes and the density and distribution of the melanin will determine your skin tone.
Melanin Is For Protection
Black or brown skin has a denser distribution of melanin. The indigenous people of areas that have very hot climates generally have brown to black skin tones e.g. Africa, South Asia, Australia. One of the evolutionary reasons of our skin tone was to protect us against the harsh climates in these areas.
Dark skins have a slightly higher protection against ultraviolet damage but we are not completely protected. Ultraviolet damage is responsible for DNA damage of the skin, decrease in collagen and elastin which causes ageing, age spots as well as cancer. All these indications do occur in brown people but may take longer to manifest hence the term “Black don’t crack”.
Melanin And Sunscreen
With lack of maintenance and protection, our beautiful melanated skin can also succumb to the indications mentioned above. This is why it is important to avoid exposure to the sun for extended periods at a time and making use of sunscreen is very important. Newer formulations of sunscreen are less greasy and ashy making then suitable for brown people. Sunscreen should be applied daily, even on grey days. Reapplication is imperative when you’re exposed directly for long periods of time e.g.on the beach. Black skin friendly sunscreens can be found in ranges such as Dermafix, Lamelle, Eucerin. These brands cater for different skin types as well which is a major plus.
Hyperpigmentation, Laser Treatments & Chemical Peels
Hyperpigmentation is a common concern for people of colour. This may be caused by hormonal fluctuations (melasma), post inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) from acne or injury. Friction on area’s such as knees, elbows and inner thighs are causes of darkening in these areas. This is all completely normal. In previous years, the cosmetic world was not as inclusive to brown or more melanated skins. Treatments such as laser hair removal and chemical peels were a no go zone as they were too dangerous and risky for brown people. When brown skin is exposed to inflammation or heat, one of its inflammatory responses includes producing more melanin at the site of the injury which would result in hyperpigmentation or discoloration of the skin. Over time, newer technologies of lasers as well as better formulations of topical treatments have become safe for melanated skin.
Maintaining a healthy skin is prevention of damage caused by ultraviolet damage and using topical creams to treat hyperpigmentation. Be wary of any creams that promise skin lightening. Skin lightening is an unfortunate product of colourism and the sale of products promising skin lightening is illegal in the country – products are prohibited from making lightening, whitening and bleaching claims. Above the psychological effects of skin lightening, the physical damage to the skin can have devastating results. Skin lightening creams that are found off the black market usually contain ingredients such as mercury, steroids and hydroquinone which have very severe side effects on the skin. These include thinning of the skin (making it vulnerable to injury and scarring, redness, swelling, skin ulcers, exogenous orchranosis which is a condition linked to long term use of toxic bleaching creams which results in blue black patches on the affected areas. This condition is almost impossible to treat. Steroid acne is another side effect from creams containing steroids. Mercury may cause damage to your nervous system as well as kidney disease in serve cases. Skin lightening is extremely dangerous hence the prohibition of such products. The are no health benefits in lightening your skin. The sale of skin lightening creams is generally rife in unregulated environments as the demand is high, making black woman vulnerable to these dangerous creams
A popular skin lightening treatment that has gained popularity due to use by celebrities is Glutathione. Glutathione is an antioxidant found in the human body, but like most antioxidants, it does not occur in large amounts in the body. It works deactivating the enzyme tyrosinase, which helps produce melanin. There are no clinical trials yet to test the long term use of glutathione.
Love Your Brown Skin
Your skin is beautiful irrespective of the shade of your skin. When treating it, your objective should always to have a healthy glowing skin which is possible to achieve regardless of your skin tone. There’s a wide variety of treatments which is inclusive to black skin . Make sure you protect your beautiful melanin with the daily use of sunscreen, treat conditions such as acne and hyperpigmentation with the guidance of a professional for the safest and best results. All skin has pores, some area’s which are darker than others due to hormonal fluctuations and friction (such as underarm and bikini area’s). This is all okay, it’s the characteristics of black skin, it does not disrupt your skin’s health or take anything away from your hygiene.
Love your brown skin.