Last updated on Sep 19th, 2018 at 02:58 pm

Everyone is preaching sunscreen from the rooftops – but just how much attention should you be paying if you’re dark skinned?

A lot of dark-skinned people think they can skip sunscreen, but that might not be the best for your skin and health.

What’s the difference between black and white skin (and everyone in between)

The appearance of our skin colour is determined by the amount of melanin it contains – or melanocytes, if you want to break it down some more. The quantity and distribution of melanocytes gives our skin its particular colour, and with that a corresponding level of UV protection.

Skin tones are measured on the Fitzpatrick scale and they range from type I (very fair) to type VI (very dark). The darker your skin, the higher your melanin content – and thus the higher your built-in UV protection.

Read more: 5 places you’re probably forgetting to apply sunscreen

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How protected is dark skin?

While black skin is more protected than white skin, it’s nothing near a long-wearing broad spectrum SPF50. In fact, the melanin present in dark skins (Fitzpatrick types 4-6) is comparable with a built-in SPF of between 10 and 15. The data is inconsistent as it’s difficult to accurately define exactly which skin types classify as dark, and environmental factors as well as the condition of your skin play a role.

In practice, a built in SPF10-15 means you won’t burn or get sun damage from short amounts of sun exposure that may be enough to send your fair-skinned friends home with sunburn and a few new freckles. You’re also less likely to get skin cancers (but you’re nowhere near immune, so please don’t be reckless).

When should I use SPF if I have dark skin?

If you have dark skin, you should use SPF30-50 every time you spend more than 20 minutes in the sun. It’s not only for when you’re on the beach – all outdoor time counts. If you’re black, you’re most susceptible to melanomas in areas where your skin is lighter – palms, soles, between your fingers and toes, lips, eyes, eyelids. Take caution to avoid excessive sun exposure to these areas, as applying SPF is not always the most practical way of protecting them.

Read more: 7 sunscreen mistakes we all need to stop making

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What type of sunscreen is best for dark skin?

Sunscreens have a ridiculously bad rep for leaving dark skins with white streaks or a ghostly gray complexion. Aside from that, oiliness is often an issue. Fortunately SPF formulations have come a long way. Head to the beauty counter with this in mind:

  • Mineral sunscreens containing zinc oxide and titanium oxide are responsible for the white/gray residue. If you prefer a mineral SPF on your face (they’re best for super sensitive skins), find one with micronised titanium/zinc oxide. The smaller particles allow for more even distribution, and therefor less residue.
  • If oil and shine is your problem, shop for a mattifying formula. They’re likely to have a gel-cream texture, which will prevent excessive oiliness during the course of the day. You can also touch up with an SPF-containing compact powder for a bit of additional peace of mind (but no, the SPF in makeup is not enough – we don’t apply nearly enough of it to get the proper benefit).
  • To avoid ashy looking limbs, opt for a dry oil SPF on your body. It’s very different from tanning oil, and won’t make you feel sticky and hot. Instead it leaves you with a gorgeously subtle glow in addition to functional sun protection.