by Conrad Johnson-Omodiagbe
Have you ever questioned whether or not you need sunscreen? Well, you’re not alone. Recently, while promoting her newest venture, global popstar turned fashion and beauty mogul, Rihanna, let it slip that for the longest time, just like you, she didn’t believe black people needed sunscreen. “Growing up on an island, you’re exposed to the sun every day. So you always thought that SPF was a tourist thing, and especially not for Black people,” Rihanna said in the interview with Yahoo Entertainment. “I have learned the hard way, because over time the sun wasn’t that kind to my skin and my skin was not that resilient. So I started to have hyperpigmentation in certain areas.”
Over the years, the need for black people to protect themselves from the sun has been a recurring argument. Referring to melanin and its ability to hold us down no matter what has become the constant go-to when making a case against sunscreen. But then again, can you blame us?
Just like every other skincare product, sunscreen is marketed in a white-centric way. From ads that feature smiling Caucasians applying the product without residue or white cast – an issue black people constantly deal with when it comes to sunscreen – to Film/TV showing white characters applying sunscreen at the peach to avoid sunburn. Think about it, how many times have you heard a black character in a movie mention the word “sunscreen”? There you have it!
However, with technology through social media simultaneously expanding and contracting our worlds, we finally have access to information and narratives built around us as black people. Speaking to the HuffPost about the melanin controversy, Dr. Sheel Desai Solomon, a dermatologist in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, explains that while melanin serves as a natural skin protectant that blocks UV light for up to SPF 13, it does not invalidate the use of sunscreen. “This isn’t as strong as the sunscreen (SPF 30 is recommended) which is created for skin protection. Yes, sunscreen is needed.”
So what happens if I don’t use Sunscreen?
Well, you get tossed into the biblical hellfire! Okay, maybe that’s a little extreme. But then again, have you experienced the Nigerian sun?
The sun in all its scorching glory is also known for its production of ultraviolet radiation popularly known in its two forms: long wave ultraviolet A (UVA) and short wave ultraviolet B (UVB). While melanin might protect us slightly from UVB, these rays are still responsible for sunburns and hyperpigmentation which consequently lead to aging and uneven skin. UVA, on the other hand, has worse repercussions. As a result of its deep penetrating ability, these rays have been known to cause long-term problems including cancer.
With black people running on a solution over prevention motto when it comes to health, it becomes easy to ignore the signs that might come with ultraviolet radiation. Most skin anomalies are dismissed until they eventually exacerbate into something much worse. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, while white people have a higher chance of getting melanoma – a form of skin cancer, black people have a 65% survival rate in comparison to 91% for white people.
We also exist in an era where almost everyone seems to be interested in skincare, but most importantly, we have easy access. Constantly exfoliating with glycolic and lactic acid, applying Vitamin C serums, and Alpha Arbutin or getting homemade facials, each procedure makes our skin more vulnerable to the harsh radiations that come with the sun. Imagine going through all these steps to treat hyper pigmentation or texture, and then forgetting something as basic as a sunscreen? It not only makes your progress sluggish, but there’s also a chance you might end up worse than you started.
With more brands producing black-targeted sunscreen products, we have options now – even though it pales in comparison to white counterparts. Often, we reference popular faces like Angela Basset, Richard Mofe Damijo, and Lynn Whitfield when we make mention of the popular saying “Black don’t crack.” But the truth is, black will most definitely crack if you don’t take care of it.