How To Be Sun Smart

woman laying on the beach with sunscreen on her belly(BlackDoctor.org) — Most black people (63%) never use sunscreen, according a study published last year. A lot of black people believe they don’t need to. But the myth of blacks as the sun-immune race needs to be dispelled.

Here are answers to common questions that will hopefully move the non-users in the right direction.

How does the sun do damage? Is it the light?

Sun protection is used to prevent damage that can be caused by the ultraviolet (UV) radiation that accompanies sunlight. There are two types of harmful UV rays. UVA is mostly associated with premature aging and cell damage, but may cause cancer. UVB is mostly associated with DNA damage, sunburn, and most skin cancers.

Do black people really need sun protection?

People of color can suffer from the same adverse effects of sun exposure as other ethnicities. If you believe that black people don’t get sunburn… FYI…when we get darker in the summertime, that is sunburn. We are just more likely to escape the painful side effects.

Another benefit of being black is that we suffer from the other adverse effects at a much lower rate too. The darker a person is, the lower the chances of skin cancer, for example. But, since sun damage is not impossible, protection is important.

Something to keep in mind when you consider the necessity of sun protection is that when black people do contract skin cancer, it is often melanoma– the deadliest form– and black people do not fair well with this disease. The study mentioned earlier found that blacks have a 78 percent lower survival rate compared to 92 percent of whites. We not only catch skin cancer, it kills us disproportionately.

What is the difference between sunscreen and sunblock?

So perhaps, you’re convinced now, but you hear some people say sunscreen and others say sunblock. Though they are often used interchangeably, they are different products. A sunscreen filters certain UV rays by absorbing them while allowing others to reach and be absorbed by the skin. A sunblock acts as a barrier, deflecting all UV rays. Sunblock may be a better choice if you have sensitive skin.

What is SPF? How does it apply to black skin?

You have probably seen SPF on various skincare products and you may or may not know that it stands for sun protection factor. In either case, it may still be unclear exactly what that means.

SPF is usually followed by a number. Many people believe this relates to the amount of sun a product will block. SPF actually communicates the length of time that a product protects you. Say, for example, that you can normally stay in the sun for 30 minutes without burning. With a properly applied product that is SPF 15, you should be able to withstand sun exposure 15 times longer.

For light skinned African-Americans, SPF 20-30 is recommended. For darker individuals, SPF 15 is usually sufficient. The SPF only applies to UVB rays so a “broad spectrum” product is needed for defense against UVA.

Is the sunblock in makeup good enough?

Unfortunately, cosmetics that contain sunscreen will not allow you to get two products for one price. Sunscreen is still needed because you do not wear enough makeup (hopefully) to get the protection specified by the SPF. Even if you did, makeup does not stay in place adequately enough to be protective.

Can’t Shea butter be used for sun protection?

More disappointing news… Shea butter does offer some protection, but at a very low levels, so it is only effective as a supplement to other sun defense products.

Which periods of the year should sun protection be used?

You should use sunscreen or sunblock all year, including rainy, cloudy, and snowy days. UV rays are always present. Being in certain environments can increase the need for protection because UV rays reflect off of surfaces such as sand, snow and tar.

Apply sun protection regularly, liberally, and do not neglect your lighter and more sun sensitive areas, such your lips, the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet.

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