Dark skin tones: protected or not from the sun?
Dr Des Fernandes, Environ Founder and Scientific Director, answers some burning questions about sun protection for darker skin tones. Some of the scientific facts about the risk of sun damage might be surprising but knowing the truth will help everyone stay safer in the sun. Because we believe beautiful skin should be for everyone. For Life.
How are skin colours scientifically classified according to the Fitzpatrick Skin Photo-Typing Scale?
What are the effects of sun exposure on unprotected darker skin photo-types?
The most important problem faced by many people with darker skin is the development of pigmentation, dark patches and uneven skin tone, especially on the face. Lighter skin tones tend to experience fine lines and wrinkles as signs of photo-ageing. It is less common for darker skin photo-types to develop skin cancers, but it is very serious when it does happen because skin abnormalities often go unrecognised until in an advanced stage. In paler skins, melanomas are easier to spot and the likelihood of saving patients presenting earlier is about 90%, whereas amongst darker skin tones, the survival rate after developing a melanoma is about half that.
One surprising discovery was that while melanin protects us from UV damage, when melanin itself is damaged by UV light it becomes quite a potent destructive agent against DNA and this can promote the development of cancer, especially melanoma. While melanoma is uncommon in darker skins, when it happens, it is much more deadly.
What SPF should darker skin photo-types use?
It’s simple: my philosophy is less, more, more often: a lower SPF 15 - 20, applied every 1.5 - 2 hours is scientifically proven to be safe and effective to protect all skin photo-types from the ravages of sun damage. One must remember that darker skins have slightly more natural resistance to UVB (sunburn). But, 95% of the radiation we’re exposed to daily is UVA which can penetrate to the deeper layers of the skin. Increased melanin in skin does not mean that darker skin is totally protected from UVA. UVA can cause significant damage to the skin by creating free radicals, which is why it is so important to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with additional antioxidants – these are free radical scavengers.
Does infrared radiation affect darker skin photo-types?
Yes. Unfortunately, darker skins may absorb more infrared (IR) radiation and this can increase the heat responses in the skin. New scientific research shows one third of infrared radiation can penetrate the deepest layers of the skin and may increase the risk of pigmentation and even cancer. I recommend darker skin photo-types to use a daily sunscreen that offers broad-spectrum UVA and UVB as well as infrared protection.
Why does sunscreen look ashy on darker skin tones?
The unattractive ashy “ghost like” appearance on darker skins comes from physical sunscreens containing minerals that are generally not ground to the absolute finest level possible. These mineral sunscreens are called inorganic sunscreens. Environ’s new RAD SHIELD® Mineral Sunscreen was specifically formulated with new generation zinc and titanium minerals to offer a light-weight, transparent protective shield, with no residual ashy appearance.
Any other advice for dark skins?
The need for daily sun protection cannot be over emphasised. UV radiation destroys the naturally found vitamin A and essential nutrients in the skin, even on a cloudy day. These vital skin ingredients need to be replenished every day to keep skin healthy-looking and resilient. Environ’s vitamin A Essential Care ranges are based on the industry-leading Vitamin STEP-UP SYSTEM® which enables skin to become gradually more comfortable with increased levels of vitamins A and C.
You can’t hide from the sun, but you can reduce its effects.