Do black people really need to wear sunscreen?

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This week the Botswana Met Office issued a heatwave warning as the mercury soared, leaving us wilting in its wake! As if it wasn’t already bad enough, the heat seemed to take a turn for the worse over the weekend, with temperatures in Gaborone hitting a whopping 42 C! This is almost unheard of in these parts because no matter how hot it gets, the temperature usually peaks at about 39 C. 40 C+ temperatures are more common up North where it’s considerably hotter.

Stepping outside felt like walking into a massive furnace, made worse by the absence of a breeze. Getting on the combi on my way from work around 1.30 pm, I decided to sit by the window and threw it wide open, hoping for some relief from the ungodly heat. However, all that did was blow hot air in my face! True to the journalist in me, as I endured the unbearable ride home, I couldn’t help but overhear countless people moaning about the heat. The one conversation that struck me was between these two ladies who while both acknowledging the importance of slapping on sunscreen to guard against skin cancer, bemoaned the fact that it’s too dear for them.

Ladies, I know it’s rude to eavesdrop, but I would have to disagree with you there! There are countless options for you out there, some of which are very affordable. You could even drop your body lotion from your budget and replace it with sunscreen if you’re on a tight budget. Whatever you do, you need to make sunscreen the holy grail of your beauty regime to guard against the risk of skin cancer!

I was very pleasantly surprised that those two ladies knew they could do with using sunscreen. However, there is the widespread and misguided belief that darker skinned people don’t need to wear sunscreen as the melanin in their skin protects them from burning as well as skin cancer. If you ask Black people if they wear sunscreen, many of them will readily admit to not seeing the importance, while others don’t like the price tag that comes with it. Some will even react incredulously or even laugh at the “absurdity” of the question.

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In reality, the idea that Black people do not need sunscreen could not be further from the truth. As a matter of fact, the following information is more accurate:

  • It has been medically established that although the darker the person, the less likely they are to get sunburnt; the melanin in a Black person’s skin only provides approximately 15 percent of the required protection
  • Even though Black skin takes longer to burn, all skin colours do eventually get sunburnt
  • Black skin is more susceptible to hyperpigmentation; the formation of unsightly dark spots or patches on the face. I have, in fact, experienced this first hand and have had to battle the effects over the years
  • Once the uneven skin tone has formed, it can be extremely difficult to reverse the damage. Effective remedies tend to be very expensive and far out of reach for most people due to financial constraints and/or lack of knowledge about options available to them
  • Regardless of skin tone, UV rays penetrate the deep layers of the skin and damage DNA skin cells. This damage may lead to skin cancer including melanoma, which in turn could lead to death

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  • It has also been established that people of colour have a higher mortality rate with skin cancer because they are often not diagnosed until the cancer is too far advanced, making it more aggressive and harder to treat

Given how intensely hot it gets in Botswana, I believe that there needs to be a drive to educate people further about the hazards of UVA/UVB rays. People need to be made aware of the importance of wearing at least SPF30 sunscreen, and wearing a hat or using an umbrella for further protection. It is imperative that you wear sunscreen whether it is hot or overcast because the dangerous UVA/UVB rays can still penetrate through the clouds and cause irreparable damage. This is why people still get sunburnt on cloudy days. Even when you’re not leaving the house, it is advised that you still wear sunscreen indoors.

Sunscreen is the mainstay of my beauty regime. No day goes by when I don’t wear sunscreen. After my first shower of the day; come rain or shine, I lather the stuff on religiously. I have read over and over that even when it is overcast, UV rays can still damage your skin. I have previously developed heavily hyperpigmented skin due to not wearing sunscreen. It causes distress, knocks your confidence and can take years to reverse, if at all. This is the reason I always preach to anyone who will listen, about the importance of wearing sunscreen.

Physical or natural sunscreen for better protection

My personal favourite sunscreen is of the physical variety as opposed to the chemical. Physical sunscreen; also known as natural sunscreen, typically contains zinc oxide. The higher the zinc content the better; because zinc is a natural sunscreen and protects skin better. Zinc Oxide sunscreen can be found in any decent pharmacy.

Natural sunscreen containing Zinc Oxide also comes in powder form. These are especially ideal for the ladies because they can top up their sunscreen through the day without “upsetting” their make up. Powder Sunscreen comes in clear and tinted colours. It is non-messy, easy to apply and also mattifies those pesky oily patches that most of us have to contend with. It is fair to say although they can be expensive they are well worth it. Having said that though, powder sunscreen is not always easy to find and has yet to hit Botswana beauty stores.

Natural sunscreens are the better option to chemical sunscreens as they provide optimum protection; they don’t irritate skin or sting your eyes like the chemical versions do. Physical sunscreen can be very light and luxurious, whereas I’m yet to find a single chemical sunscreen of a quality that compares to that of physical sunscreen.

The bottom line – regardless of skin colour, texture or type; every single one of us needs to wear sunscreen every day. It’s a very easy step to incorporate into your daily routine, yet it could very well play a huge role in saving your skin health and indeed your life. Even if it’s not natural sunscreen, some protection is better than none at all.


Do you use sunscreen? What are your thoughts on whether or not Black people should protect themselves against harmful UV rays? Please share your views with us.

11 months ago