If you aren’t someone wondering for yourself, you’ve definitely been curious. How do UV rays affect darker skin tones? There is such a diverse range of skin colour among and within ethnicities, and it totally begs the question of whether this affects how your skin reacts to the sun’s UV rays, if at all. How do tanning and burning change up with the factor of darker skin? Do darker skin tones demand less sunscreen, or can they even go without?
The short answer is no, sunscreen (preferably mineral based broad-band, with an SPF of 30) is always a must, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t notable differences in the skin cell science behind the relationship between colour and skin sun care.
A good place to start with these questions is with another question: what makes skin colour so diverse? The answer to why our skin takes up such a wide spectrum is a natural substance in our cells called melanin. The darker your skin tone, the more melanin your cells naturally produce. Melanin has natural properties that provide some UV protection by reflecting and absorbing, and the approximate SPF level that a very dark skinned person can have in their cells has been known to reach 13. This is pretty cool, and it does mean that a fair amount of UVB rays (remember, B for burn) can be stopped more readily.
Darker skin does not burn or tan as easily, but it can – and certainly does – still suffer a nasty sunburn with prolonged exposure. Skin with the most melanin possible will still never naturally have SPF15 protection (considered the minimum for sun safety). Also, UVA rays, the more penetrative kind, can still do deep cellular damage and lead to skin conditions, including cancer. All the more reason to use the right sunscreen regardless of skin tone.
A bit of a scarier topic, but it’s important for anyone to check their skin for abnormalities, such as bumps, new moles, or strange marks. Darker skin can make it much harder to notice skin abnormalities, so frequently checking your skin for things you didn’t see before is ultra-important. People with darker skin tend to have lighter skin near the bases of the feet, palms, and near the fingernails, and these places can actually be particularly susceptible, while also very easy to miss when applying sunscreen, so do keep them in mind!
If your skin tone is dark and you don’t tan or burn easily, UVA rays can still be doing deeper damage, putting you at risk for illnesses without the indicators that more fair-skinned people are used to. It is also worth mentioning, that any skin colour is more likely to find itself aging faster from sun exposure.
A process called photo-aging that affects people who tan in salons, and neglect the use of sunscreen during time outdoors. It is especially crucial to check your skin diligently after suffering any kind of sunburn. It’s also hard even just notice yourself getting a shade or two darker from a day in the sun. A trip to the dermatologist or your doctor is never a bad idea if something doesn’t feel or look normal, because all skin deserves to be as healthy as it is beautiful.