Sun Safety

Sunscreen for dark skin: Do you really need it?

Have you ever heard that people with dark skin don’t need sunscreen? We debunk this dangerous myth and explore how to find the best sunscreen for dark skin.
MoleMap Team
January 24, 2023
7 minutes

Aus­tralia and New Zealand have among the high­est rates of melanoma and oth­er skin can­cers in the world. And while those with fair or freck­led skin are typ­i­cal­ly more sus­cep­ti­ble to sun dam­age and skin can­cer, there’s a dan­ger­ous mis­con­cep­tion that those with dark skin aren’t at risk.

It’s true that melanoma and oth­er skin can­cers are less preva­lent in those with dark­er com­plex­ions than in those with lighter com­plex­ions. But this does not mean peo­ple with dark skin are immune to sun dam­age. Dark-skinned peo­ple can still get sun­burned and devel­op sun spots or skin can­cer. And dead­ly melanomas are still detect­ed among these groups each year.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, there aren’t a lot of local stud­ies on skin can­cer rates in dark-skinned or Indige­nous peo­ple in Aus­tralia and New Zealand avail­able at present. How­ev­er, inter­na­tion­al research shows that in peo­ple of colour, skin can­cers are often diag­nosed at a more advanced stage. As such, treat­ment is more dif­fi­cult, result­ing in a high­er mor­tal­i­ty risk for these groups.

These scary stats are enough to make any­one reach for the near­est tube of sun­screen, right? Read on to learn more about why sun­screen is still extreme­ly impor­tant for those with dark­er com­plex­ions and how to choose the best sun­screen for dark skin.

sun­screen is still extreme­ly impor­tant for those with dark­er com­plex­ions

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Sun­screen for dark skin: why is it so important?

Before we dive into why sun­screen is impor­tant for peo­ple with dark skin, you may be curi­ous to know where the ​‘peo­ple with dark skin don’t need sun­screen’ myth came from in the first place.

It all stems from the fact that peo­ple with dark­er com­plex­ions pro­duce more melanin (the pig­ment that gives skin its colour) than those with lighter skin. Melanin helps to pro­tect the skin against the sun by absorb­ing and dis­trib­ut­ing the harm­ful UV radi­a­tion in the sur­face lay­ers, reduc­ing the risk of cel­lu­lar dam­age that can lead to skin cancer.

Although increased melanin in dark­er skin types offers some low lev­el pro­tec­tion, it is cer­tain­ly not a com­plete bar­ri­er against sun dam­age or skin cancer.

3 women in different ages

Here’s the bot­tom line: if you have skin, you need sunscreen

Regard­less of your skin tone, you need at least SPF 30 pro­tec­tion to guard your skin against harm­ful UV rays. At MoleMap skin cancer clinic, we rec­om­mend that all peo­ple wear SPF 50 sun­screen for the best pro­tec­tion against skin cancer.

If you avoid using sun­screen, your skin can­cer risk increas­es sig­nif­i­cant­ly. Skip­ping sun­screen can also lead to oth­er unde­sir­able skin con­cerns in dark­er com­plex­ions such as pre­ma­ture age­ing, sun spots, wrin­kles and hyperpigmentation.

using sun­screen

How to choose the best sun­screen for dark skin (that won’t leave a white cast)

If you have dark­er skin, it can be tough to find a high­ly pro­tec­tive sun­screen that suits your skin type and doesn’t leave you with the dread­ed white cast. But thank­ful­ly, more skin­care and sun­screen brands are now cre­at­ing spe­cial for­mu­las with dark skin in mind.

The trick­i­est part about choos­ing the best sun­screen for dark skin is find­ing one that not only offers high lev­el sun pro­tec­tion, but that you’ll also love wear­ing every day. This means find­ing a for­mu­la that blends in seam­less­ly, com­ple­ments your skin’s nat­ur­al oil lev­els and doesn’t leave behind a chalky or milky residue.

sun­screen for dark skin

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Try invis­i­ble sun­screen for no white cast

Invis­i­ble sun­screen goes on clear — or more accu­rate­ly, almost clear — when applied to the skin, mak­ing it a great option to avoid a white cast or pur­ple tinge on dark skin. This type of sun­screen uses zinc oxide nanopar­ti­cles so they are hard­er to see when they are spread onto the sur­face of the skin.

While invis­i­ble sun­screens may not be com­plete­ly trans­par­ent on all dark­er skin types, they will often leave a much more seam­less or sheer finish.

Go chem­i­cal-free with min­er­al sun­screen for dark skin

Min­er­al sun­screen uses min­er­al ingre­di­ents such as zinc oxide and tita­ni­um diox­ide that sit on the skin’s sur­face, cre­at­ing a phys­i­cal bar­ri­er against the sun’s harm­ful UV rays. Chem­i­cal sun­screens, on the oth­er hand, absorb into the skin and con­vert UV rays into heat then release them from the body.

While chem­i­cal sun­screens tend to be eas­i­er to rub in on dark­er skin types, min­er­al for­mu­las are less like­ly to clog your pores or irri­tate your skin. Min­er­al sun­screens can some­times leave a white cast on dark skin so it may be help­ful to look for for­mu­la­tions com­bined with light-weight mois­turis­ers or serums like hyaluron­ic acid. These for­mu­las will often have a thin­ner con­sis­ten­cy, designed to rub in smooth­ly and dry clear — per­fect for all day, every day wear.

Find a tint­ed sun­screen for dark skin tones

Tint­ed sun­screen comes in dif­fer­ent skin-coloured shades (rather than the stan­dard white for­mu­la) to bet­ter match your skin tone while still pro­vid­ing high lev­el sun pro­tec­tion. Tint­ed sun­screen also helps to even out your skin tone if you suf­fer with blem­ish­es or hyper­pig­men­ta­tion. This makes it a great option for when you want some cov­er­age but don’t feel like wear­ing a heavy, full face of make up.

It can be dif­fi­cult to find a per­fect match when it comes to tint­ed sun­screen, espe­cial­ly for those with dark­er com­plex­ions. How­ev­er, most beau­ty coun­ters and skin­care stores that sell tint­ed sun­screens for dark skin offer free sam­ples or in-store testers to help you find a shade and for­mu­la that suits your skin best.

sunscreen variations

How to best pro­tect dark skin from skin cancer

Those with dark skin are not immune to the risks of sun expo­sure. Even if you have a dark­er com­plex­ion, it’s still cru­cial to be proac­tive about your sun pro­tec­tion to reduce your risk of devel­op­ing skin cancer.

Sun pro­tec­tion tips for dark skin

Some of the best ways to pro­tect dark skin from the sun’s harm­ful UV rays include:

  • Using a broad spec­trum SPF 50 sun­screen, spe­cial­ly for­mu­lat­ed for dark skin tones
  • Wear­ing sun pro­tec­tive cloth­ing, includ­ing UPF 50+ hats and sunglasses
  • Seek­ing shade and avoid­ing direct sun expo­sure dur­ing peak UV periods

Do peo­ple with dark skin need reg­u­lar skin checks?

Yes! In addi­tion to appro­pri­ate sun pro­tec­tion, dark­er-skinned peo­ple should also check their skin reg­u­lar­ly to mon­i­tor for changes, such as:

  • New moles or spots on your skin
  • Moles or skin spots that are chang­ing in size, shape or colour
  • Moles or skin spots that have become rough, raised or scaly
  • Moles or skin spots that are itchy, irri­tat­ed or bleeding.

Peo­ple with dark skin are often more prone to devel­op­ing melanomas or oth­er skin can­cers in unusu­al places, such as under the fin­ger­nails or on the soles of the feet. This fac­tor may also play a role in why skin can­cers often aren’t diag­nosed until lat­er stages in peo­ple of colour.

skin check up

One of the best ways for dark­er-skinned peo­ple to avoid this out­come and catch any hid­den skin can­cers ear­ly is to get a pro­fes­sion­al skin can­cer check at least once a year. With a com­pre­hen­sive mole check like our Full Body MoleMap, a trained melanog­ra­ph­er can com­plete a thor­ough check of your skin from head-to-toe and eas­i­ly spot any sus­pi­cious spots on your body.

MoleMap Team

At MoleMap we check, detect and treat skin cancer. Find out how you can protect your skin at your nearest MoleMap skin cancer clinic.

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