Brown Girl’s Guide to Sun

Heads up: I’m not a doctor or dermatologist, so the views in this post are based on my personal experience and research.

Like many other brown and black people, I very rarely get sunburned. In fact, I never had a sun burn until I stayed out all day at an amusement park senior year of high school. I remember being shocked and a little confused at my pink chest. Since that day, I still only get sunburn every few years, but I use sunscreen daily. Why? Because sun damage can affect everyone, regardless of race.

You’re probably aware that people of color tend to have more melanin in their skin cells than white people. Melanin works by essentially giving brown and black people a built-in layer of SPF (thank god for melanin—it’s usually up to SPF 15). That layer of SPF means people with darker skin are much less prone to getting sunburned. But here’s the thing: if you’re out all day long, SPF 15 isn’t going to cut it. And almost any skin tone (except the absolute darkest tones) can burn or get skin cancer. What’s more:

“Though people of color (POC) are less likely to become afflicted with skin cancer, they are much more likely to die from it due to delay in detection or presentation. Very often, skin cancer is diagnosed at a more advanced stage in POC, making treatment difficult.”

Gupta, A. K., Bharadwaj, M., & Mehrotra, R. (2016). Skin Cancer Concerns in People of Color: Risk Factors and Prevention.

We all know #blackdontcrack, but I’m not taking any chances with wrinkles, age spots, or skin cancer. I wear sunscreen almost everyday, even inside, even in winter.

I ignored my own advice and paid for it…This is the nasty consequence of forgetting to reapply sunscreen at 12,000 feet above sea level!

Choosing a Sunscreen

For my daily sunscreen, I look for one that 1) doesn’t cause breakouts, 2) is easy to apply, and 3), doesn’t give my skin a ghostly white or gray cast. With most American sunscreens, the third requirement can be the hardest to find. A few years ago I started using Asian sunscreens (usually Korean or Japanese— my favorites are Bioré UV Aqua rich or Nivea Sun Protect) and I never looked back. These sunscreens are usually a little runnier and I find that they don’t have that “sunscreen smell.” Most importantly, they are invisible and seem to sink right into my skin. Unfortunately, I have yet to find a good waterproof Asian sunscreen (if you have any recs, let me know in the comments!).

When I’m swimming or sweating, I’m less concerned about white-cast so I switch over to a western sunscreen. I like to use a liquid chemical sunscreen like Neutrogena Sport Face for my initial application, then reapply throughout the day with a mineral stick like the Mychelle Sun Shield. It’s important to enjoy (or at least not have to think about) wearing sunscreen, so try different brands to find ones that work with your skin. During a long day in the sun, it’s super crucial to reapply sunscreen. Whenever I stop for water or snacks, I try to remember to also slather on more SPF.

More Sunscreen Tips

  • Apply more sunscreen than you think! You need a quarter teaspoon for your face and about a shot glass worth for your body.
  • If you have brown or black skin, you’ll probably want to avoid the “tinted” mineral sunscreens. As you can probably guess, these have only enough “tint” to turning a white-cast into a light tan-cast.
  • I’m prone to breakouts, so I try to double cleanse sunscreen off with an oil cleanser then a foaming cleanser.
  • Don’t forget to apply sunscreen in the weird places like wrists and ears. I recently got a burn behind my knees!
  • If you’re in a high altitude place (above 8,000 feet or so), it’s even more important to reapply sunscreen often. The atmosphere is thinner at high altitude, which makes the sun rays stronger and more dangerous.

I love spending time in the sun, and with a solid sun routine, I can do it safely! 🌞

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