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Sun protection important even for darker skin types
Protecting yourself from the sun is important for everyone, regardless of skin type, and also applies to people with melanin-rich/dark skin. The type of skin we have largely affects how sensitive the skin is and is therefore important to think about when it comes to staying in the sun. People with more melanin-rich skin and darker skin tones naturally have better protection against UV radiation, but are not immune to sun damage or skin cancer.

Classification of skin types based on skin color and sensitivity to the sun

We humans are divided into different skin types based on color tone and how sensitive we are to exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. The most common system used is Fitzpatrick's, which is a skin scale that was developed back in 1975. According to this simplified classification, we humans can be divided into 6 different sensitivity classes, from skin type I (very fair, blonde or red-haired people who burn easily and rarely or never get tan) to skin type VI (People with very dark skin, who tolerate a lot of sun and who never burn). Which skin type we belong to is determined by the amount and type of melanin that the skin's melanocytes produce.

Eumelanin – provides protection and color

Eumelanin is the most common form of melanin found in human skin and contributes to providing a brown to black color tone or pigmentation. In general, people with darker and more pigmented skin have more eumelanin than people with lighter skin tones. Eumelanin acts as a powerful protector against UV radiation due to its ability to absorb and scatter the UV rays, preventing them from penetrating deeper into the skin and causing DNA damage. This form of melanin is also effective in neutralizing free radicals generated by UV exposure, reducing the risk of skin cancer and skin aging. Individuals with higher concentrations of eumelanin, usually people with darker skin tones, therefore naturally have better protection against UV radiation.

Pheomelanin – gives a yellow/red shade and no UV protection

Pheomelanin gives the skin a more red to yellow color tone and is mainly found in higher concentrations in individuals with lighter skin, red hair and freckles. In contrast to eumelanin, pheomelanin is less effective at absorbing and scattering UV radiation and therefore provides less natural protection against the harmful effects of the sun. Pheomelanin can even help generate free radicals when exposed to UV light, which increases the risk of DNA damage and consequently can even contribute to skin cancer.

Lower risk of skin damage and cancer in people with dark skin.

The increased UV protection that the higher amount of eumelanin provides in darker skin types is also reflected in the lower percentage of sun damage seen in these individuals.

Scientific studies have shown that people with lighter skin (Fitzpatrick skin types I and II) are much more susceptible to sun damage and aging caused by UV radiation. They also have a much higher risk of developing skin cancer compared to darker skin types (IV-VI).

Actinic keratosis (AK) and melanoma are two conditions significantly affected by UV exposure. AK, a possible precursor to squamous cell carcinoma (a form of skin cancer), is less common in darker skin types. Likewise, melanoma risk is lower in individuals with darker skin.

However, when melanoma occurs in individuals with darker skin types, it is often diagnosed at a later and more serious stage, underscoring the importance of regular skin checks for all skin types, even darker ones.

SPF 30 is often sufficient for darker skin types

The product's sun protection factor (SPF) is a measure of how well a sunscreen product protects the skin against the sun's UVB rays, which is the type of radiation that primarily causes sunburn and can contribute to skin cancer.

For darker skin types (IV-VI) that have a higher natural own protection due to the skin's eumelanin, SPF 30 is sufficient for daily use during the summer months (March/April to September/October), especially if you spend limited time outdoors or are at more northern latitudes.

Regardless of which SPF you choose, it is also important to choose a product with good UVA protection. The recommendation is to use products that have a UVA symbol, a round ring with the letters UVA inside, to get good UVA protection.

During the winter months, there is no reason to use a sunscreen, not for any skin type, because the sun's UV rays are very weak then (UV index is below 2).