Life

Do you need sunscreen if you have dark skin? We uncover skin cancer myths

Posted by
Stylist Team
Published

It’s a common misconception that dark skin doesn’t need sun protection, but what’s the truth?

Summer: the most feel-good season of the year. As soon as there’s a glimmer of warmer days in sight, our attention turns to booking holidays and buying shell accessories. You know, all the good bits.  

A subject we’re generally less keen to focus on is that even those rays feel so lovely on our skin, they’re damaging it long-term. 

In 2015 there were 15,906 cases of melanoma skin cancer - the most serious form of skin cancer as it can spread to other parts of the body - reported. Yet 86% of those cases were preventable. 

But as the women we spoke to pointed out, advertising campaigns often make it seem as if this is something only their white-skinned audiences should be concerning themselves with. By creating marketing materials using mainly Caucasian people, and the existing myths that if you have dark skin it can’t be damaged by the sun, people of colour can think that they’re safe from harmful UV rays. 

You may also like

All your sun cream and SPF questions, answered

We asked women of colour from a variety of backgrounds to share their thoughts on sun safety with us, and uncovered some shocking, little-known facts about how black skin can be damaged by the sun.

“I don’t protect my skin from the sun,” said one of the women featured in our video above. “I know that probably sounds crazy to some people, but I think for me being of darker complexion I naturally have melanin so I don’t ever feel like I’m going to sunburn.”

“No I don’t wear any sort of SPF or sun lotion,” another woman we spoke to agreed. “I don’t really need it to be fair. I’m not going to burn, or tan, so I’m good. I just get my melanin.”

But when we presented them with the following facts, they were shocked. For example, a study into malignant melanoma in African Americans in 2016 found that black people are 1.5 times more likely to die from melanoma than Caucasians. And further to this, a paper called Skin of Colour - A Practical Guide to Dermatological Diagnosis and Treatment in 2013 found that skin cancer awareness programmes for darker skin tones are few (if any) and prevention messages are scarce.

“I did not know that,” admitted one of the women. Another shared the story of finding out that sadly she had skin cancer herself: “I went to Ibiza for my 30th and I didn’t really bother wearing sun cream. One of my friends said ‘you’ve got a mole on the back of your leg, you should have that mole checked’.

“Two weeks later I was told it was skin cancer. I was shocked, upset. I’d just assumed that when you’ve got dark skin or black skin you don’t need sun cream.”

The women agreed it’s a topic the black community needs to talk about more and be better informed on, but that this stems from the media and the inclusivity of the education we all receive regarding skin cancer. 

“If it’s not awareness for everyone, then you’re never going to feel like you’re included and you’re never going to make the change,” pointed out one. Another added: “You look at all the adverts for all the top brands that do all of their ‘whoo! It’s summer! Put on some sun lotion and have fun with the kids’ and there is never one black baby in there.”

You may also like

Reef safe sunscreen: The best SPFs for face that are kind to the environment

Three things that can keep your skin safe in summer

1. Seeking shade

We all love to feel the warmth of the sun, but don’t stay out in those rays all day long. Enjoy it for a little while, and then sit under a parasol or in the shade. Make a conscious effort to not let yourself be exposed all day.      

2. Cover up with clothing 

It sounds simple but wearing a t shirt over your bikini on the beach will protect a huge expanse of skin that otherwise is being damaged. Keep a sun hat in your bag and a floaty dress or linen shirt to throw on, so that there’s something between you and the sun. 

3. Wear sun screen

It’s as simple as that. Always keep some sun screen in your bag and make sure you’re applying regularly. Really we should all be wearing factor 30 and reapply every two hours when out in the midday sun.  

Watch the full video above.

Images: Getty 

Topics

Share this article

Author

Stylist Team

Recommended by Stylist Team

Beauty

This is why you should be using SPF for your hair

Your hair needs protecting from the sun, too. As you slather SPF from foreheads to toe, it's easy to forget the most exposed asset... your hair

Posted by
Lucy Partington
Published
Beauty

These innovative products will change the way you apply sunscreen

These clever formulas will make you see suncare in a whole new light.

Posted by
Lucy Partington
Published
Beauty

The best black-owned hair brands and the women behind them

Afro hair is finally getting the premium products it deserves – and these women are leading the charge.

Posted by
Ava Welsing-Kitcher
Published