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SPF for blacks skin cancer Nigeria Lagos

“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.

Fitzpatrick SPF15 SPF30

Source

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.

Source

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!

References

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

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fitzpatrick_scale
https://www.weatheronline.co.uk
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/5219752.stm

Comments

  • January 18, 2018

    Peju

    Thank you Natural Nigerian.
    Im a physician and I cannot tell my patient this enough.
    I was in Taraba for three weeks about 8 years ago, and it was amazing the hyperpigmentation recorded by my colleagues in just 3 weeks without sunscreen. I used an Aveeno one of SPF-70 becuase I (thought I was) extra.
    My skin thanked me for it.
    Unfortunately, ive not been so good about it since, but your post is just the kick in the butt i need.
    Let us not forget the children too. If you want your children healthy and playing in the sun, remember to add a layer just on top of their body cream!

    reply
  • January 20, 2018

    Thank you NN for this in-depth article. I’ve always been a bit obsessive reading about skin care, so since my early teens till just 2 years ago, I never stepped out of the house without sunscreen.
    I fell off the wagon as I transitioned to all-natural products. I know that more natural sunscreens exist, but because they’re not readily available in Nigeria, I went without.
    For the first time in my life I got terrible breakouts and my sun exposure (it was NYSC year) left me with dark spots. Thankfully they’re gone now, but obviously UV rays can do a lot more damage than mess with my vanity.
    Now I’m rarely ever in the sun, but this is a wake up call for those times that I am. I think I’ll just have to suck it up and get a sunscreen, natural or no.

    reply
  • January 22, 2018

    Ada Beauty

    Wow you did a good job putting this together. I have a few people that never get why I want to use sunscreen. I’m going to share this with them. So many people have the false notion that they don’t need sunscreen because they’re black.

    reply
  • February 3, 2018

    Shade

    I reside above the equator so I take advantage of the sun when it’s out to top up my VIT D as this has been proven to prevent certain cancers. And like most vainglorious women of my age, I am of course concerned about discolouration on my face due to sun exposure and to that end I have a collection hats and visors as well I wear when the sun is quite high.

    Re children please take care if you slather them with sunscreen. First and foremost is to ensure they get enough vit d from the sun or diets. Over here childhood diseases such as rickets are making a comeback due to kids not getting enough sun exposure because of the skin barrier caused by over use of sunscreen.

    reply
  • February 11, 2018

    Loba

    Thank you NN, I used to take my sun screen game seriously, until I got another brand which always leaves a white cast(ashy) on my skin. I learnt it means more zinc concentration. Can you elaborate on that? Thank you.

    reply
  • April 14, 2018

    leonie

    Thank you, NN. This is very informative. I served in Sokoto last year. The weather was hot and dry during the heat period. Rubbing any form of lotion was unbearable, cos you will even sweat it off. I used coconut oil and Shea butter throughout my stay, and I did not get so dark. Not sure if that equals UV protection. The body cream I went with (cocoa butter), was suspended till the harmattan season. During that time, I rubbed my coconut oil, den layered with the lotion. I was able to do this because the weather was much cooler.

    At the end of the day, I believe natural things created by God are sufficient to mitigate the effects of the sun. I also consumed lots of carrots, oranges and watermelon. It’s bad to rely on external protection, without fortifying your inner self. Eating foods that are good for the skin and improve skin elasticity also help

    reply
  • May 5, 2018

    Funmi

    Can anyone recommend one that’s not too costly? I’ve never used sunscreen and I want to get one ASAP. Thanks for the enlightenment

    reply
  • February 26, 2019

    Jojo Amiegbe

    Hello NN.

    Thank you so much for this article.

    I’d been gaining interest in using sunscreen but I was kinda lost until I bumped into this write up. Learned so much in 15 minutes.

    I feel better guided on what to look out for and why we should seriously consider getting one. God bless 😘😘

    reply

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