Tis the time of the year when "snow birds" fly south. It's peak tourism season from Florida to the Caribbean, Mexico through Central and South America. So while you're packing your bags, don't forget to drop in your sun block. Your melanin can't protect your from everything.
Although the melanin in our skin does give us some protection, the environment has changed and it is affecting the efficiency of our (brown folks) natural sun block.
According to the Mayo Clinic, people with dark skin may not sunburn as easily as those with fair skin, but they are still at risk of skin damage from excessive sun exposure.
Skin color is determined by the number, distribution and type of pigment-producing cells (melanocytes) in the skin. Dermatologists refer to the degrees of pigmentation in skin as "skin types." Skin types range from very little pigment (type 1) to very darkly pigmented (type 6).
People with light skin types have a much higher incidence of skin cancer than do people with dark skin types. But dark skin is not a guarantee against skin cancer. People with dark skin, hair and eyes can -- and do -- get skin cancer. Particularly vulnerable areas include under the fingernails and toenails, on the palms of the hands and on the soles of the feet -- where skin is lighter.
What sunblock is meant to do?
The radiation that comes from the sun, known as the solar spectrum, contains the visible sunlight that we see as well as invisible components of "light." The different parts of the solar spectrum have different wavelengths. Some of the solar spectrum is blocked by the earth's atmosphere, including the ozone layer that people are concerned about losing. The part of the solar spectrum that reaches us on earth contains the invisible part, called infrared, that has wavelengths longer than those of visible light. While we don't see the infrared with our eyes, we can feel its warming effects on our skin.
Ultraviolet or UV radiation, another invisible part of the solar spectrum, is responsible for sunburn and other damaging effects to people's skin.
Sun blocking skin lotions intercept the UV light before it gets to surface of the skin. The traditional white creams containing zinc oxide particles, that we mostly see on the noses of lifeguards, block not only the UV but also reflect the visible light, which is why they appear white.
New formulas are transparent, because many people are not keen on wearing white goo.
What is SPF, anyway?
Sun Protection Factor. It is a measurement of how well a sunscreen will protect skin from UVB rays, the kind of radiation that causes sunburn. If your skin would normally burn after 10 minutes in the sun, for example, wearing an SPF 15 sunscreen would theoretically allow you to stay in the sun for 150 minutes (10 x 15) without burning. This is a rough estimate, however, and your own skin, the type of activity you do in the sun (i.e. one involving water or sweat), and the intensity of sunlight may give you more or less safety.
SPF ratings can be confusing or misleading at times. For example, the rating tells you about UVB protection, but nothing about protection from also harmful UVA rays. The SPF scale is also not linear: SPF 50 does not prevent burns 2/3 times longer than a SPF 30, and in fact blocks only about 1.3% more UVB radiation than SPF 30. In addition, The Food and Drug Administration has expressed concerns that current testing methods may not be able to accurately and reproducibly determine SPF values for high SPF products (FDA 1999).
What you need?
Between SPF 30 and SPF 50. Science says because the environment has changed and solar UV rays are more powerful, research says this range is the most effective.
Here's a guide:
SPF 30: You will get darker, but not crispy.
SPF 50: You will get a light tan or depending on your skin tone, not one at all
SPF 85: You should keep your original skin tone.
*note: anything that reads SPF 100 or SPF 150 is just a marketing scheme.
*caution: make sure you aren't allergic. If you have sensitive skin, try sunscreen with those formulas.
What about catching on fire?
Youve read the headlines of people wearing sunblock and catching, right?
WHAT THE WHAT?
Here's a story of a Massachusetts man catching fire after wearing Banana Boat Aerosol Sunscreen. He stepped in front of a barbecue grill shortly after applying the aerosol spray-on sunscreen, and his body was immediately engulfed in flames. That was in 2012, and Banana Boat recalled the product saying they believe the problem had to do with the design of the UltraMist spray can. The next year, NPR reported that a total of five people experienced burns after applying "spray on" sunblock.
The conclusion seems to be, don't to spray on your sunblock near open flames.
Rules on how to apply.
There are just two rules to remember. Use one shot glass full for your entire body
and apply 2 hours before you have to be in the sun.
You should also know that there are no real difference between sprays and cream; although I've found you get more for the money with a cream. But sprays are easier to apply.
Remember that applications only last between an hour and hour and half if out in constant sun. So...You must reapply.
If you have a handsome companion, then that should be the fun part.
Check out The Daily Affair's video:
Do Black People Need Sunblock?
This story was originally posted on The Daily Affair. Visit for travel and lifestyle tips from our award winning team.
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