It’s quickly becoming common knowledge that everyone needs sun protection, whatever your skin tone may be. We explore everything there is to know about SPF for dark skin, along with personal favourites from those in the know.
If you grew up in a household with a black mother, it’s likely she would not let you out of the house without a) a jacket (even in the depths of summer), and b) without moisturising the ash from your entire anatomy until you could visibly witness the top layer of melanin slipping and sliding off of your body. Well, almost.
However, how often would she stress about SPF? Most likely never - we’ve been brought up to think we don’t need it thanks to our magnificent melanin. Luckily, times are changing, friends - so let’s be the generation that celebrates healthy habits and moves away from this black skin myth that deeper tones don’t need sun protection.
The SPF struggle became very real for me this summer. I was one of the 21,000 people that attended the iconic Afronation Festival in the sunny Algarve this summer. I also bore witness to a few tan-to-darker skinned individuals experiencing what appeared to be mild sunburn on the tips of their noses, eyelids, and shoulders or simply patches of dry skin. You know that foreign sun hits different.
I’m Portuguese and therefore used to that type of sun exposure, but I wasn’t about to play myself. Being one of the few people that had sun protection, I soon became the inhouse SPF dispensary (to all my friends: you’re welcome). However, the one travel size bottle I had at hand was terrible. It was so white, it was giving me cadaver vibes - which resulted in me having to mix it with my foundation to disguise those grey/blue undertones. To top it all off, five days later I noticed that my shoulders had started to peel.. I guess I shouldn’t have shared my SPF with everyone after all.
So after all of that, I’ve knuckled down, done some research and rounded up some of the experts’ favourites for you and me, so we can all live our best Hot Girl Summer, every summer and all year round in pure sun protected bliss. Before I bring you the broad-spectrum goods, let’s educate ourselves thoroughly on why we need to be more proactive at protecting our melanin.
I spoke to skin expert, industry gem and founder of the Black Skin Directory, Dija Ayodele, to find out everything there is to know about dark skin and sun protection. “I like to educate patients and clients about the need for sun protection from two angles: UVA and UVB,” she says.
It’s fair to say that there is a lack of education on melanomas on darker skin tones and people of colour are often left out of the conversation meaning we don’t know the risks, as well as the sort of changes to the skin we should be on the lookout for. “Some skin cancers can even develop in areas not typically exposed to the sun e.g toe nails, palms, and the soles of feet,” says Ayodele. Who would have guessed?
The Black Skin Directory (BSD) has created a #protectyourmelanin campaign to change this narrative and ensure people of colour start being more aware about sun damage. The biggest concern is that evidence shows that people of colour are likely to seek medical professional advice five years later than Caucasians, but according to the Skin Cancer Foundation statistics, the estimated five-year melanoma survival rate for black patients is only 65%, versus 91% for Caucasians.
Ok, so I know what you’re thinking. We now understand the importance of SPF, but we’re still put off by how most formulas can give a bluish or white cast to skin, due to active ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Let me tell you, after some thorough research, I’ve come to find some great alternatives out there with flawless translucent finishes to cater to people of colour. The word translucent does scare me when it comes to skincare and make-up, because more often than not, translucent doesn’t turn out to be that translucent once it touches my dainty dark skin. So, I asked some of our favourite people of colour beauty industry experts to share their personal experiences and even found a couple of favourites of my own. Ash no more!
Leticia Sophia, celebrity MUA
“I’ve always loved the sun and tanning, but being a makeup artist has made me more aware of how important it is to protect your skin. I absolutely love La Roche-Posay’s Anthelios XL Ultra-Light Fluid - it doesn’t leave a white cast (even at factor 50), its texture is super light without feeling oily on the skin, and it’s also perfect as a base before moisturiser and foundation. It’s an essential in both my personal and client makeup kit.”
La Roche-Posay Anthelios XL Ultra-Light Fluid
Dija Ayodele, aesthetician
Dija had a few recommendations for some go-to SPFs depending on your skin’s needs. We like the sound of the Ultrasun Face Anti-pigmentation SPF50+.“If you’re tackling pigmentation issues, this will help in the long run. Clever ingredient ectoin works to quell excess pigmentation. Nice texture, and you can skip moisturiser on this one.”
Ultrasun Face Anti-pigmentation SPF50+ 50ml
Patricia Mamona, athlete
“Because I’m an athlete, I spend a lot of time in my outdoor office. I am not very prone to burning, but long hours in the sun leave my skin feeling dry, plus I know its effects on premature ageing. I love using The Rituals of Karma SPF 50 face cream to counteract that. It’s very light on the skin, hydrating, doesn’t feel greasy, no white-cast as you’d expect in an ordinary SPF, so I’m happy to wear it on its own or as a make-up base.”
The Rituals of Karma SPF 50 Face Cream
Bisi Akins, presenter
“When I was out in Portugal as the official presenter for the Afronation festival, I knew I would have extremely long days in the sun, working on the beach. I had recently started looking at different SPF products and I stumbled across The Body Shop Vitamin C Glow-Protect Lotion SPF30. This moisturiser did the job, no white cast, with a little going a long way. I was able to stay protected, stay matte, but still glow! I use it consistently now.”
The Body Shop Vitamin C Glow-Protect Lotion SPF30
Simran Randhawa, model and journalist
“My go-to SPF has to be The Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen SPF 40. It has to be my absolute favourite because it has no white cast (obviously!), doesn’t smell like sunscreen, and has a really nice texture that gives such a great base for make-up.”
Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen SPF 40
Iman Bokolo, beauty PR
“My favourite SPF is the La Prairie Cellular Swiss UV Protection. It is on the pricey side of things but I see it as an essential step in my skincare routine. The veil offers SPF 50 to protect my skin against harmful UV rays and also contains a herbal extract blend that helps with brightening which is great to help with my hyperpigmentation. Unlike most SPF’s I’ve used, this one doesn’t leave a white cast and aids my skin (bonus!).”
La Prairie Cellular Swiss UV Protection
Dr. Adeline K., dermatologist
“Isdin Eryfotona Actinica Suncreen SPF 50 daily is a premium physical sunscreen with zinc oxide ideal for sensitive skin such as rosacea, acneic skin and skin prone to hyperpigmentation such as melasma. I really like this product because it’s ultralight which is easy to apply and spread on skin for maximum coverage. It also goes a step-further to provide antioxidant benefits which reverses damage already caused to the skin.”
Isdin Eryfotona Actinica Suncreen SPF 50
Uche Natori, Content Creator
“My SPF pick is The Body Shop Skin Defence Multi-Protection Essence SPF50, this stuff is like magic! Great formula that’s super lightweight and leaves a wonderful glow on the skin - perfect under makeup or worn on its own. Doesn’t break me out or leave a nasty grey cast, perfect for all my brown/dark skin ladies - the only downside is it’s off the market until September, I believe they’re re-formulating it.”
The Body Shop Skin Defence Multi-Protection Essence
Laura Hector, beauty PR
“From working in beauty PR I’ve been lucky enough to try many beauty and skincare products including sun creams and products that contain SPF. One of my absolute favourites has to be Glossier Invisible Shield SPF35, it melts into your skin and also applies smoothly under my skin when I wear makeup without feeling caked or clogging my pores.”
Glossier Invisible Shield SPF35
Sheilla Mamona, beauty writer
“I have been on an ocean-deep search for a spray-on SPF that would give me the protection my delicate melanin requires, and I could apply over my make-up for the necessary top-ups throughout the day (experts recommend a top up every two hours if you’re under sun exposure for long periods of time… I am when I’m living my best beach babe life, of course). I also don’t want any of that white cast nonsense (I’m a women of many demands, can you tell?). I popped my FBI hat on and looks like I’m about to put YOU on to some amazing spray formulas. You’re welcome.”
Coola Makeup Setting Spray SPF 30
I actually really enjoyed this one, because I love me a multi-tasker. Don’t be alarmed by that initial alcohol scent. This high protection 70%+ organic setting spray comes with plant stem cells and hyaluronic acid, providing all the hydration your thirsty skin needs. It basically does everything that I asked for.
Bioderma Just Spray and Go with Photoderm MAX Mist SPF50+
This would probably be my spray-on SPF for body of choice. It’s incredibly moisturising for a spray, it actually sets as an oil giving you a really healthy glowy finish. Although it’s designed to be a ‘spray and go’, I’d would definitely prefer to spread it gently into the skin, for an even finish throughout. All in all, this one is a winner too.