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The SPF Myth for Darker Skintones

29/06/2016 15:42 | Updated 29 June 2016

A common misconception that I have heard too many times to count is "Oh if you have dark skin you don't need to wear sunscreen" or "all SPF's leave a grey/white ashy tint on my face"

Now although the weather forecast in the UK seems to have missed the memo that it's June and should be summer, I'm here to dispel that beauty myth and also add on that sunscreen isn't only for when the sun is shining.

So where does this beauty myth originate from?

Your skin gets it's colour from melanin (the pigment which naturally gives skin it's colour) and the darker you are, the more melanin you have within your skin, which then offers a greater natural level of sun protection. This is because melanin absorbs UV rays from the sun, thus providing some measure of defence for your skin.

In fact research suggests that darker black skin has a naturally higher SPF (sun protection factor) of approximately 13.4, and paler white skin has an SPF of 3.4, with other skin tones falling in between those two ranges.

A key point to note is that higher levels of melanin slows down the skins natural production of Vitamin D from the sun, so it is worth having your vitamin D levels checked.

Now while this might sound like it confirms the beauty myth that you don't need to wear sunscreen if you have dark skin, this doesn't mean that you aren't getting any sun damage by not protecting your skin or that it isn't adversely affecting your skin.

There are so many benefits to wearing an SPF and for me, aside from protecting my skin from premature ageing, it also helps tremendously with my hyperpigmentation. By inhibiting any further darkening of the scars I am trying to fade as well as preventing new scars from forming.

When it comes to treating hyperpigmentation I find that it can feel like a continuous two part dance of both prevention and cure. This is because of the higher levels of melanin, which for women of colour can cause the skin to go into overdrive whenever there is any trauma caused to the skin. In the case of sun damage that is exactly what happens, as the melanin cells become hyperactive in an attempt to protect your skin, which can then lead to dark patches, uneven skin tone and further darkening of acne scars.

Prior to developing a love affair with SPF, I noticed that whilst i would be gaining some traction with my hyperpigmentation treatments, all the good work and progress would become undone thanks to the effects of the sun.

Now to tackle the myth that all sunscreens leave a whitish hue on darker skin. First we need to distinguish between the main two types of sunscreens which are namely chemical and physical sunscreens. Chemical sunscreens, tend to apply sheer and work by absorbing the UV rays from the sun and then dispersing it into your skin. Physical sunscreens on the other hand are usually made up by one or two physical filters (Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide) both of which are naturally broad spectrum, meaning they protect against both UVA and UVB rays. It works by sitting on the surface of the skin and scattering and deflecting the sun's rays. Physical sunscreens work well for sensitive skins as they are more stable than most chemical sunscreens and don't tend to cause irritations, so are my personal favourite. Admittedly many physical sunscreens of old used a large amount of zinc oxide or titanium dioxide which is what causes the white hue, and it was definitely a bit of an issue for darker skins.

One way around this is to apply makeup on top of your SPF, although I know this isn't always ideal. Thankfully newer formulations have come onto the market which are micronised so they apply much sheerer than earlier versions, and don't require you to leave the house looking like you are auditioning for a part in casper the friendly ghost.


Three I have tried and loved are:

  • Dermalogica Pure Light SPF 50

This contains hyaluronic acid to add a boost of hydration to your skin and it provides protection against broad spectrum UV rays, whilst also working to prevent hyperpigmentation with the addition of botanicals to even out the skin tone - and all without that dreaded white tint.

  • Exuviance Sheer Daily Protector SPF 50

A broad spectrum SPF 50 PA ++++, I love that this sheer and fragrance free formula provides protection with the mineral actives titanium dioxide and zinc oxide but with zero white marks. Its lightweight and sheer making it perfect for the summer months. It also contains some powerful antioxidants from green tea and vitamin e to neutralise environmental damage and protect cellular DNA.

  • Radical Skin Perfecting Screen SPF 30

This SPF 30 protector uses zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to naturally protect again UVA/UVB rays. It's lightweight, dries without a white tint and leaves the skin with a matte but luminous finish due to a "diamond encapsulation". It's perfect if you have oilier skin as it acts as a bit of a primer for your makeup and prevents the "heat slip and slide" that can sometimes occur when it gets too hot.

So whilst I may be walking around with a natural inbuilt SPF of up to 13.4, prevention is always better than a cure and I would like to ensure my skin stays good and protected for a long time to come.

This post first appeared on www.lotionspotionsandme.com

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