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how to choose the right sunscreen for different skin tones?

Sunscreen offers different levels of protection needed to protect your skin from the sun’s harsh rays. However, formulations are not universal for all skin types. So... how do you know which one to reach for the next time the sun starts beating down on you? Project Sunscreen has the answer to that, and ahead we’ll discuss some basics of sunscreen protection and how to choose the right one for different skin types.

How Sunscreen Protects Your Skin

Chemical sunscreens protect you from the sun by acting like a sponge and absorbing its rays. These types of sunscreens include avobenzone, oxybenzone, and homosalate. Natural sunscreens, also known as physical sunscreens, consist of mineral-based ingredients — titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. Natural sunscreens work by reflecting the sun and scattering its rays rather than using the energy conversion process that chemical-based sunscreens do.

Dermatologists say that the best sunscreens that defend powerfully enough against the sun’s damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays have broad-spectrum SPF coverage. They also say it is a good idea to patch-test sun protection formulations on your inner arm first, especially if you have sensitive or dry skin.

Choosing the Right Sunscreen Based on Skin Color

Melanin is a chemical that gives skin its pigment – and fair skin, dark skin – and everything in between has varying levels of it. Some sunscreens are better formulated for different skin colors, particularly when it comes to those who have darker complexions.

Suitable Sun Protection for Darker Skin Tones

The darker you are, the more melanin you have in your skin.  Having more melanin also means the sun won’t burn you as fast, giving rise to the prevailing misconception that dark-skinned people don’t need sun protection.  Although people with dark complexions won’t get sunburned as rapidly as their fairer-skinned counterparts, they will, most certainly, burn and sustain sun-induced damage.

Damage from exposure to the sun includes age spots, cancer, and wrinkles. Sun damage can also cause hyperpigmentation to occur in sections of the skin in dark-skinned people. Furthermore, studies have shown that skin cancers occur less frequently in dark-skinned people, but when they occur, healthcare professionals tend to diagnose them at a later stage. As a result, prognosis and survival rates are much worse.

The fact that past sunscreen formulations left behind a visible, chalky residue on darker-skinned people was off-putting and didn’t help matters in the past. However, science has come a long way regarding sunscreens for people with darker complexions – more and more sunscreens are popping up that blend flawlessly into darker skin tones.

The Best Sunscreen for You

When picking out a sunscreen, consider your skin type in the guide above – then pick the one that protects your type of complexion (normal, oily, dry, etc.) and absorbs cast-free. Although you might see suggestions for an SPF of anywhere from 2-30 for skin with dark pigment, it’s always best to use sun protection that provides SPF 30/50 broad-spectrum, meaning it protects the skin from both UVA and UVB rays.

Suitable Sun Protection for Pale Skin

A glowing tan is a catch-22 situation; on the one hand, it has represented a picture of health in the past, while on the other hand, exposure to harmful UVA rays is how you acquire one. This type of UV ray activates melanin, the brown pigment that causes tanning.

Melanin is your body's way of defending skin from sun damage, but it is still far too easy to get burned if you are light-skinned (redheads are particularly at risk).  Also importantly, the Mayo Clinic says that there are a number of risk factors that determine if you will get skin cancer, chief among them is having pale skin and a history of sunburns.

The Best Sunscreen for You

People with pale complexions must wear sun protection daily, both inside and outdoors, since they burn more quickly. Although you may see experts saying that SPF 30 sufficiently protects most people from sun damage, the keyword is “must.” Project Sunscreen recommends that people who have very fair skin – medical conditions that give greater sensitivity to sunlight – or a family history of skin cancer – start with a sunscreen containing at least SPF 50 and use the guide above for your skin type.

As you can tell, matching the perfect sunscreen to your skin type and color isn’t always easy. Nevertheless, it’s worth the extra effort to find one that is uniquely suited to you.


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