The Sun and our Skin: What You Must Know
Many Africans believe the myth that because of our protective melanin, we don’t necessarily need to take precautions in the sun. While it is true that we are less likely to have sun burn than whites, African skin can get significantly affected by the sun and Yes we can have skin cancer as a result.
Though the average African woman has a natural SPF of 13 ( which means we can stay in the sun without burning, 13 times longer than a White woman), we still need to include sunscreen in our daily skin care routine for 5 key reasons:
- Sun causes premature aging. Even though, African skin is less susceptible to aging, we can however, still age prematurely with overexposure to sun, especially those of us with lighter skin tones.
- Sun causes sun burn. We are not immune to sun burns that damage the skin. The UVA rays (which are the long wave length rays) work on the melanin granules already contained in the upper epidermis, they speed up the aging process of the skin, make the skin darker and damage the protein fibres and collagen in the skin which make the skin firm and supple.
- Sun can contribute to skin discoloration. When stimulated by the sun , our melanocyte cells can produce more melanin, triggering hyper pigmentation or darkening of the skin in uneven patches. If you already have dark marks on your skin, the discoloration may become more pronounced.
- Sun suppresses the immune system. This effect probably weakens the body’s ability to fight infection, cancer and other conditions.
- Sun causes skin cancer , even in dark people!
How sunscreens work!
Sunscreens work by absorbing the harmful ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultra violet B (UVB) rays before they can affect the skin. Sunblocks create a protective barrier that reflects UV rays, causing them to bounce off the skin. Like other skin care products, sunscreens are formulated for different skin types. For most African women, a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 is sufficient.
- For oily skin. Choose a light sunscreen gel or spray.
- For Normal skin. Apply a sunscreen gel with SPF 15 or a sunscreen containing moisturizer.
- For Dry skin. You can use just about any lotion or cream sunscreen – they stay longer than gels
- For sensitive skin. Shop for PABA- free sunscreens and patch test first.
Sunscreens with zinc oxide or titanium oxide do make the skin look white, but newer products contain finer ingredients that may fade into the skin after several minutes.
How to use sunscreeens effectively!
- Be sure to apply your sunscreen after you have applied your moisturizer or use a moisturizer that contains sunscreen.
- Always apply sunscreen twenty to thirty minutes before sun exposure.
- Use generously on all exposed skin
- Reapply frequently after swimming or exercise
- Take note of expiration dates. Best to toss after using it for one year.
Remember that some skin care products may contain photo sensitive ingrediients which may make your skin more prone to sun damage (there would usually be an accompanying instruction on such products about the need to wear a sunscreen) please do wear a sunscreen and reapply every 3 to 6 hours , especially if in the sun.