The earliest records of ointments being used for sun protection comes from the Egyptians, who used rice bran extracts, jasmine and lupine extracts as a sunscreen. Egyptians understood that these ingredients had the ability to absorb the sun’s very strong rays.
All around the world, ancient civilizations had their own versions of sunscreen. The Greeks used olive oil, some Native American tribes used Tsuga canadensis (also known as eastern hemlock), and in thePhilippines they used a paste called orak or burak, which was made from water weeds, rice, and spices. Today we have many choices for sun protection, which may leave you wondering which is better for your skin – mineral sunscreen or chemical sunscreen?
The Medical and Cosmetic Benefits of Sunscreen for Dark Skin
Second, let’s dispel the myth that people with melanated skin tones don’t get cancer. Not true. My dermatologist friend likes to remind her patients that Bob Marley died of melanoma, a type of skin cancer. It can affect anyone, regardless of skin color, and skin cancer in patients with darker tones is often diagnosed at later stages, when it is more difficult to treat. The primary cause of skin cancer is exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun and protecting your skin with sunscreen is the best cancer prevention step you can take.
Next are cosmetic reasons to wear sunscreen. Exposure to UV light is a major contributor to developing signs of aging, including fine lines, wrinkles, and dark spots. We’ve all heard “Black Don’t Crack”, but Black does get marks, changes in skin tone and sags. That is all due to skin damage from the sun, which can be prevented with sunscreen. Lastly, hyperpigmentation, dark marks and changes in skin color are the biggest concerns of melanated people who visit the dermatologist. While there are many ways to treat dark marks, the marks will return if you are not diligent with using sunscreen every day. So, for all these reasons, skin care professionals recommend using a broad-spectrum sunscreen to protect against both UVA and UVB light, that is SPF 30 or higher, as part of your daily, year-round skin care routine.
Mineral vs Chemical Sunscreen for Melanin Skin
Once you decide to use sunscreen, you’ll find some products are made with mineral sunscreen ingredients, others are made with chemical sunscreen ingredients, and some are made with both types of sunscreens ingredients. Each type offers different advantages and disadvantages and understanding the pros and cons will help you select what works best for you.
Mineral Suncreen for Dark Skin
Mineral sunscreens (also referred to as physical sunscreens) contain small white particles of zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide which naturally reflect light off your skin. They sit on top of your skin as a physical protection barrier reflecting light before your skin gets damaged. They offer broad-spectrum coverage to protect against burns from UVB light, and deeper skin damage from UVA light, including hyperpigmentation and wrinkles.
The main advantage of physical sunscreens is when zinc oxide is combined with iron oxides used to make tinted formulas, mineral suncreens protect against blue visible light, which comes from our computer screens and has been found to cause hyperpigmentation -- especially in people with darker tones. You can read more about blue light and melanated skin here.
An added bonus is zinc oxide is soothing for people with sensitive skin -- which is very common for melanin rich tones -- and is gentle enough to use on children.
The downside of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, is the protective white pigment can leave a white cast when used on melanated skin tones. Tinted mineral products, such as AbsoluteJOI’s Tinted Moisturizer with SPF 40 Mineral Sunscreen, help eliminate this white cast while protecting aganst blue light, and using micronized versions of the minerals also reduces light reflections.
Lastly, zinc oxide supports collagen in your skin and helps with wound healing, which offers benefits to reduce wrinkles, reduce sagging skin and give your face a plump appearance.
Chemical Sunscreen for Dark Skin
Chemical sunscreens include ingredients like octinoxate, oxybenzone and avobenzone in products made in theUS (sunscreens require FDA approval and are formulated with different ingredients outside the US). These sunscreen ingredients provide broad spectrum protection against UVA and UVB light. They are absorbed into the skin and allow light into the skin. But once the light is absorbed, the active ingredients create a chemical reaction that converts it into heat, which then dissipates from the skin.
The main advantage of chemical sunscreens is they have no color and are clear. Plus, they are light and can be easily applied to skin for a smooth finish, without a white cast for good esthetic results.
The downside of chemical sunscreens is they can be irritating to people with sensitive skin, can clog your pores and will sting your eyes.
Some people don’t like that the ingredients are absorbed into your skin. A 2020 study found that six active ingredients commonly found in chemical sunscreens enter the bloodstream after just one application and remain detectable in your blood and skin, up to three weeks later. The health effects of this are not known and additional studies are needed to determine if there is any clinical significance to the findings.
You may have heard about the environmental concerns with chemical sunscreens – particularly oxybenzone. This ingredient is known to impact sea life such as coral and is banned incountries trying to protect their coral reefs. As a result of health and environmental concerns, the FDA proposed new regulatory requirements for sunscreen products, including a review of twelve chemical sunscreens which may answer questions about the impact of their use on health. As a result of this uncertainty, if you use chemical sunscreens, I recommend using products that do not contain oxybenzone.
Which Sunscreen Is Best for Healthy Skin?
Many skin care professionals prefer physical sunscreens because those ingredients are calming to the skin. Since over 60% of melanated people have skin sensitivities, physical sunscreens with zinc oxide may be preferable. And because development of dark marks from blue light exposure is more common in people with darker tones, tinted products with iron oxides and zinc oxide offer excellent protection. At the same time, the best sunscreen is the one you use everyday and many people prefer chemical sunscreens because they are easy to apply and go on clear, which is a major plus for people with darker tones.
The bottom line is the best option is to wear sunscreen every day that offers broad-spectrum coverage and SPF 30 or above protection. When it comes to choosing between physical and chemical sunscreens, each has advantages and disadvantages, so it can come down to your personal choice, and what looks and feels good on your skin.
As long as you are wearing sun protection, I am here for it!
We offer people with melanin-rich skin effective products to optimize skin health and reduce signs of aging. Developed by physician-researcher, Anne Beal, MD, our mission is to create clean skin care -- based on science, not hype -- that nourishes and protects melanin-rich skin for a healthy even complexion at any age.
Each product combines natural and clinically effective ingredients for healthy skin. We use NO parabens, phthalates, sulphates, or skin bleach. And we use no perfumes or dyes to offer pure and clean products good for all skin types, including sensitive skin.
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