Choosing sunscreens for Black skin

Using sunscreen is key in protecting skin from harmful UVA & UVB rays, but how do you know which sunscreen to use? 

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In my younger years, carefree summer days would involve me watching my Caucasian peers, smother themselves in sunscreen, whilst I laid on the grass allowing my unprotected brown skin to lap up the sun. I believed the myth that black skin doesn’t need sunscreen and as a result I’ve been sun burnt many a time.

Fast forward a few years, I am older, wiser and now more mindful about sun care. I understand how the sun affects black skin,  I diligently apply sunscreen before leaving the house and also to carry sunscreen with me wherever I go. One thing that’s made it easier is because I now understand the different sunscreen categories and what they can do for my skin.

In my experience, understanding the difference between sunscreens helps you to better incorporate sun protection into your daily skin care routine.

The Two Camps

You can mostly get physical or chemical sunscreens. Sometimes, you can get a mix of the two and so long as you choose a broad spectrum sunscreen, you’re getting protection from both UVA and UVB rays.

Physical Sunscreen

Physical sunscreen also known as inorganic sunscreen has active micronized mineral ingredients; Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide that sit on top of the skin to deflect and scatter harmful UV rays away from your skin. Think of it like covering your skin in thousands of tiny little mirrors.

The issue for people with dark or black skin is that some physical sunscreens leave an undesirable white or purple cast on the skin upon application due to the minerals. In addition, when makeup is applied it can subsequently look grey.

That said, there are some newer physical sunscreens which are very sheer, therefore minimising this this problem.

Chemical Sunscreens

Chemical sunscreens contain organic (carbon based) compounds that protect the skin from UV rays by a chemical reaction that converts the rays into heat. Compounds such as Oxybenzone, Avobenzone and Octinoxate, Mexoryl SX, Octisalate, Octocrylene, Homosalate, Tinosorb S, Tinosorb M, Mexoryl XL change UV rays into heat, which is the released from the skin, thereby offering sun protection.

Chemical sunscreens have a much thinner consistency and are perfectly fine on black skin tones, leaving no colour residue. However, their longevity is often called into question as they sometimes degrade after absorbing too much UV. They key is to apply frequently, especially if you’re having an active and busy day.

Which type of sunscreen should I choose?

This is a question we're asked frequently at Black Skin Directory. Not all formulas are created equally and so it can be difficult to advise you to choose a particular category. Most people have different concerns, so what works for one person, may not work so well for another.

The best thing to do is to sample different sunscreens that offer ‘broad spectrum protection of minimum SPF 30 (to protect against burning) and minimum PA +++ (to protect against premature skin ageing)’ with the intention of creating a sunscreen wardrobe with both physical and/or chemical protection options. That way, you are covered for all eventualities!

It’s such a common misconception that people of colour don’t need to wear any form of sun protection. Whilst higher melanin levels can withstand the sun much better, skin is still open to the same risks, from fine lines to skin cancer. I advise a minimum broad spectrum SPF 30 sunscreen.
— Bianca Estelle, Lead Aesthetician, bea Skin Clinic

Suncreens we currently love at BSD

UnSun SPF30 Mineral Tinted Broad Spectrum Face Sunscreen, $29

A physical sunscreen protecting agains UVA and UVB rays, with shea butter and vitamin E to nourish the skin. It has a yellow tint to enable it to blend effortlessly into dark skin. Though a US brand, thankfully they do ship to the UK with no problems.

Murad City Skin Age Defense Broad Spectrum SPF50, £55 

Great protection with added skin brightening benefits of Vitamin C. Protects against UVA and UVB but also against blue light emitting devices, pollution and environmental damage. Don’t be put off by the orange hue, it dries to a matte finish.

NeoStrata Sheer Hydration SPF35, £26

A chemical sunscreen most suited to oily skin types due to its oil reducing capacity. Blends seamlessly into skin with no residue and creates a smooth make up base.

bea Solar Defence SPF30, £24

A broad spectrum chemical sunscreen that comes in two very hand sizes.. Deceptively, it dispenses as a thick white lotion, but on application its lightweight on the skin. According to the Black Skin Directory Council – "I love that this sunscreen  doesn’t leave a white cast on my skin, it didn’t irritate, absorbed quite quickly and worked effectively underneath make up."