“I’m black. I don’t need sunscreen.”
If I had a dollar for every time I have heard this I would be chilling by the seaside in Seychelles, sipping a cocktail and competing with Alhaji Dangote for his position on the Forbes list.
A lot of us (black folks) don’t think that we need to wear sunscreen. The argument is that our melanin protects us from the sun and the havoc it can wreak. Parts of that statement are correct but it is not correct in totality. Sun exposure can lead to a range of conditions from hyperpigmentation of the skin all the way to skin cancer. While melanin does protect Africans (and those of African descent) from the sun’s rays more than, say, an Asian or European, it only gives about SPF13-SPF15 protection and this doesn’t block the harmful effects of the sun.
There can be abnormal melanocytes formed and distributed in the skin. This is called dyspigmentation.
If you take nothing away from this post, please take this away: black people can and do suffer from skin cancer.
What is black skin?
Let me say that things may get just a teeny weeny bit technical but I will strive to keep it simple.
There is a numerical classification for human skin color and it is called the Fitzpatrick scale. if you have ever used an emoticon where you can change the skin color to reflect your skin color then you know this scale already. That is based on the Fitzpatrick scale.
On this scale, African skin is typically Types V and VI. From the picture below, you can see that these skin types are
- Typically less pre-disposed to the risk of skin cancer than say, Type I.
- Contain more melanin (more pigment) than any other
- Considered more UV resistant.
Other things to note are that: Type V tans easily and very rarely burns, but Type VI never burns and never tans.
Why is the sun harmful to me?
The sun contains ultraviolet rays that can penetrate the skin and damage or even kill skin cells. There are two UV rays that are of concern. These are UVA (long wave) and UVB (shortwave). There is also UVC but thankfully, that doesn’t reach us on earth and so it is beyond the scope of this post.
“Did you know that the World Health Organization (WHO) identifies the Ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun as a proven carcinogen? Yes, it is that serious.”
A little information about both types of UV rays.
Is there a lot of UV in the sunshine we get in Nigeria?
The short answer is Yes. But I implore you to get even more information below. It is quite illuminating…forgive the pun.
A friend of mine helped me do the research for this (we had been discussing the presence of UV, color of the sky – you know normal things people take about…not!)
It was amazing to find there is actually UV index data that is available for different parts of the world and that Lagos, Nigeria is very much represented. Other parts of Nigeria are represented as well. Before we get into it, some background into UV index and what it means for us.
“UV index is a forecast of the skin-damaging UV radiation expected to reach the earth’s surface at the time when the sun is highest in the sky (around midday)”
They also state that “The UV Index can range from 0 (at night) to 11 or 12. It might even be higher in the tropics and/or at high elevations under clear skies.” I point this out so that you know that although I will be reporting only up to 12, the actual figure may be much higher. Basically, their machine stops reading at 12.
To make it more impactful, here is a table with the UV index in Lagos compared to the one in London. This data is for the months of Jun-August, 2017. I chose this because it is one of the sunniest times in Nigeria, with some rain and no harmattan (We get a reprieve during the Harmattan season). In London, this is summer – one of the hottest times they have.
Below is what we have in Lagos at the moment. It is currently hazy because of the harmattan but even then, you will notice that we do not record anything below 10.
To understand how this UV index relates to skin type, consult this chart below. You will see that our usual score of 12 is not even represented. If this doesn’t make you take Sun care seriously, I really doubt if anything will.
What can I do to protect myself from the sun?
- Use sunscreen. Indoors and Outdoors. For our Nigerian sunshine, I very much recommend a minimum of SPF30.
- Top up your sunscreen every so often during the day (skincare.org recommends every 2hours).
- If you are out for a swim, use waterproof sunscreen. Yes, it can come for you even underwater, remember that UVA can penetrate glass.
- Where you can, limit sun exposure especially after Vitamin D time, that is from 10AM – 4 PM. Vitamin D time is before 10 AM.
- Wear a wide-brimmed hat where possible.
- Keep children out of the sun until they are at least 6 months.
Doing the research for this post has made me re-commit to my sun protection regime (which has been pretty good, actually). I have purchased this visor and I will wear it out no matter how unfashionable my fellow Nigerians tell me that it will make me (I know my people -very fashionable and comfortable with passing out their opinions!)
Want to know even more about the importance of Sunscreen and everything we just discussed? Ted Ed to the rescue!
How do I pick the best Sunscreen?
There should be chemical and physical filters (in actual fact, scientifically, these are organic and inorganic filters but that is beyond our scope for this post) in sun`screens. The chemical filters actually absorb the rays while the physical ones filter it out.
A mixture of UVA and UVB sunscreens is best. This is called a broad spectrum sunscreen.
Please share your sun experience with us in the comment section!
Joshi S.S., Kundu R.V. (2010) Treatment and Prevention of Dyspigmentation in Patients with Ethnic Skin. In: Alam M., Pongprutthipan M. (eds) Body Rejuvenation. Springer, New York, NY