Back to Top Skip to main content Skip to sub-navigation

Doctors Recommend Sunscreen for All Skin Complexions

Image of The dangers of too much sunlight – from sunspots to skin cancer – are real risks for everyone regardless of skin complexion, doctors say. Air Force Airman applies sunscreen to his face at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, June 9, 2021. Dermatologists highly recommend that you apply sunscreen before participating in any outdoor activities to keep safe from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays.

Recommended Content:

Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness | Summer Safety

Individuals with darker skin complexions, or skin of color, are sometimes less likely to use sunscreens and protect themselves from excessive sunlight, dermatologists say.

But the dangers of too much sunlight – from sunspots to skin cancer – are real risks for everyone regardless of skin complexion, doctors say.

Research does show that melanin, the natural pigments that affect skin tone, confer some natural protection against the risk of skin cancers caused by the ultraviolet rays in sunlight.

But everyone, of any complexion, is still at risk for sun-related skin cancers.

And aside from cancer, some other sun exposure risks and potential skin problems are actually more common in people with darker skin tones.

"More important to me, and my skin of color patients, is the increased risk of pigmentary issues," said Navy Lt. Cmdr. (Dr.) James Contestable, a dermatologist from Camp Lejeune Naval Medical Center, North Carolina.

"Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, brown spots, and melasma are more common in skin of color. For this reason, I recommend high-quality zinc oxides, iron oxides (found in tinted sunblock), and sun blocks that contain antioxidants and free radical quenchers," he said.

Hyperpigmentation is among the most common reasons darker skinned people seek the care of a dermatologist, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Ultraviolet and infrared radiation from the sun is key in making melasma worse, experts say.

"The role of UVA and visible spectrum light in the development of pigmentary issues has come into focus over the past decade," Contestable noted.

"Zinc provides broad UVA protection, and iron oxides provide good visible spectrum light protection. Finally, tinted sun blocks offer the advantage of avoiding the dreaded pasty white cast that can reduce adherence to sunscreens, specifically in the skin of color population," he commented.

Contestable recommends the use of sunscreens that contain both a transparent "chemical" sunscreen and a broad spectrum "physical" blocker of UV rays like zinc oxide because of their "synergistic effect."

Misperceptions

A recent study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found that individuals with darker skin complexions are less likely to use sunscreens and practice other behaviors despite having experienced sunburns, which can be a precursor to skin cancer.

There are continuing misconceptions about the need for people with skin of color to use sunscreen daily and to stay out of the sun and wear protective clothing, and sunglasses like lighter skinned people are advised to do, according to experts.

Some individuals with skin of color are unaware of the need for photoprotection to protect against skin cancer due to the belief that their naturally dark skin tone is more capable of providing protection against skin damage from sun exposure, the study suggests.

Use Sunscreen Daily

Some people with desk jobs don't feel they need to use sunscreen or sun blockers daily because they are not out in the sun much.

Contestable's answer to that? "UVA and visible light pass through windows. Visible light is produced by our lighting fixtures inside, including computer screens and cell phones. Therefore, sunscreen still has a role even when indoors."

"This is especially important in those who have pigmentary disorders such as melasma or post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation."

"I also say: "How did you get to work? You typically have to walk from the car to the office, and every bit of sun protection helps."

SPF Level?

Contestable said he believes the target SPF level "should be the same for all skin types."

"There is a hotly debated issue" about sunscreens with higher SPFs, Contestable said.

"Some experts will say that SPF 30 blocks 97% of UVB rays, 'so why use a higher SPF?' Their opinion is that with higher SPF, there is less overall gain as SPF 50 blocks 98% of UVB rays and SPF 100, 99%," he said.

For patients of all skin tones, Contestable recommends anywhere from SPF 30 to SPF 100 because "it doesn't cost much more to get the higher SPF."

Secondly, "in real-world use, we know that most people only apply 25%-50% of the amount of sunscreen needed to achieve the SPF on the label. My hope is that if someone applies half the amount of SPF 50 then they may achieve SPF 25, and there is some research that supports this linear relationship."

Most people should just find a sunscreen that they like – and will use! Those with specific skin concerns or skin problems should get a personalized sunscreen and sun protection plan from their dermatologist, Contestable recommends.

Sun Exposure Tips

Here are recommendations for sunscreen use and sun exposure from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that apply to people of all skin colors.

  • Use sunscreen or sun blockers daily
  • Apply 15 minutes before you go out so the product can be absorbed into the skin
  • Stay out of the sun as much as possible
  • When in the sun, wear a broad-brimmed hat, long-sleeve shirt and long pants, and sunglasses
  • Use products with SPF 15 or higher
  • Make sure the product label says broad spectrum and water resistant
  • One-half teaspoon is enough to cover the face and neck, or one arm. One ounce – about the size of a full shot glass -- is recommended for full body coverage so a six-ounce bottle doesn't last long
  • Reapply at least every two hours and after any water exposure, no matter the SPF.

You also may be interested in...

Air Quality Awareness in a Haze

Article Around MHS
9/15/2022
Hazy sunset view at Puget Sound

Due to raging wildfires scorching thousands of acres from British Columbia to northern California, there’s been a murky layer which has settled over the entire area, which has even closed highways and mountain passes in Washington State.

Recommended Content:

Environmental Exposures | Wildfires | Environmental Fitness | Summer Safety

Taking the stings out of summer fun

Article
8/15/2022
Beekeeper in protective gear holds framework with bees and honey..

What you should know and do about bee, wasp, and hornet stings

Recommended Content:

Bug-Borne Illnesses | Summer Safety | Public Health

Avoid summertime food poisoning with these easy tips

Article
8/12/2022
Someone cooking on a grill

Food safety in the summer is just as important as sunscreen

Recommended Content:

Nutritional Fitness | Summer Safety | Summer Safety Toolkit

Summer Water Safety Means: Know your Limitations

Article
8/10/2022
Military personnel participating in a swim call

Know your swimming rules and dangers

Recommended Content:

Summer Safety | Summer Safety Toolkit

Soldiers Not Immune to Damage of Sun's Rays

Article Around MHS
7/28/2022
Soldiers not immune to damage of sun’s rays

Some soldiers have a greater risk for developing skin cancer than others. For July’s UV Safety Awareness month, soldiers should be aware of their risks and how to reduce their chances of skin cancer.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness | Summer Safety

Be Prepared with Back-to-School Immunizations

Video
7/28/2022
Be Prepared with Back-to-School Immunizations

Air Force Surgeon General Miller encourages parents to get their kids immunized before heading back to school in the fall.

Recommended Content:

Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness | Children's Health | Immunizations | Back to School Immunizations

Staying Mission Ready with Rising Temperatures

Article Around MHS
7/14/2022
Military personnel facing sun

Though increased temperatures can pose quite a risk, Soldiers training and missions can continue as they utilize different tools to mitigate those risks.

Recommended Content:

Environmental Exposures | Summer Safety

Are You Prepared for a Disaster?

Article
7/7/2022
Start by creating a basic disaster emergency kit and create a plan to get back together as a family in the event of a disaster.

How to prepare for an evacuation affecting your family? Or even losing your home? Start by creating a basic disaster emergency kit and create a plan to get back together as a family in the event of a disaster.

Recommended Content:

Emergency Preparedness and Response | Disaster Prep Toolkit | Environmental Fitness | Summer Safety

Ask the Doc: Heat Stroke vs. Heat Exhaustion -- What's the Difference?

Article
6/27/2022
Heat exhaustion can rapidly progress to heat injuries like organ dysfunction or heat stroke.

Heat exhaustion can rapidly progress to heat injuries like organ dysfunction or heat stroke.

Recommended Content:

Summer Safety | Heat Injuries | Ask The Doc

Tips for Enjoying Outdoor Activities as Summer Arrives

Article
6/27/2022
People biking on a trail in protective gear

Biking, paddle boarding, swimming, and hiking are good ways to get outside in nature in the summer.

Recommended Content:

Physical Fitness | Summer Safety

For Sexually Transmitted Infections, Young People are at Higher Risk

Article
6/13/2022
Protect yourself in the war against sexually transmitted infections. If you have questions about where to find free condoms, STI testing, or treatment, contact your health care provider or local installation clinic.

Every year, thousands of service members are diagnosed with at least one sexually transmitted infection. Topping the list of the most common are chlamydia, gonorrhea, and genital herpes, military health data shows.

Recommended Content:

Sexually Transmitted Infection Prevention | Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness | Men's Health | Women's Health

Men's Health Month - Taking Charge

Infographic
6/1/2022
Men's Health Month - Taking Charge

June is #MensHealthMonth. Your strength is rooted in your health and well-being, so #BeStrong and make sure you’re staying up to date on all health screenings and tests. www.health.mil/menshealth

Recommended Content:

June | Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness | Men's Health

Men's Health Month - Screening

Infographic
6/1/2022
Men's Health Month - Screening

Not all illnesses and injuries demonstrate symptoms immediately. This #MensHealthMonth, be sure to ask your doctor which screenings might be right for you. #TakeChargeofYourHealth www.health.mil/menshealth

Recommended Content:

June | Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness | Men's Health

Men's Health Month - Stigma

Infographic
6/1/2022
Men's Health Month - Stigma

#DYK? Men are 2x less likely than women to use preventive health care services. You can be the one to fight the stigma. Take action and schedule your recommended health screenings ASAP. #TakeChargeofYourHealth #MensHealthMonth www.health.mil/menshealth

Recommended Content:

June | Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness | Men's Health

Summer Safety Campaign: Grilling Safety

Video
5/5/2022
Summer Safety Campaign: Grilling Safety

Important tips for a Safe Summer behind the grill.

Recommended Content:

Summer Safety | Food Handling & Grilling | Summer Safety Toolkit
<< < 1 2 3 4 5  ... > >> 
Showing results 1 - 15 Page 1 of 9
Refine your search
Last Updated: June 14, 2022

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing. Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.