The saying ‘black don’t crack’ has become so well known that most women often mistake it for an endorsement to not use sun protection. The saying originated in the US and became a popular phrase in describing how black women seemed to age better than their white counterparts. Celebrities like Iman and Naomi Campbell have become the poster kids for the phrase, as have mothers and grandmothers who seem to have secret knowledge that keeps the wrinkles at bay. While there may be some truth to the ‘black don’t crack’ statement, the issue is far more complex than originally meets the eye.
Black skin contains more melanin than white skin, says dermatologist Dr Thabisile Ngobese. ‘This does give us an advantage in sun protection and the upper hand on how we age. The less melanin, the more prone to sun damage skin is,’ she says. ‘But that doesn’t mean that black women should go without sunscreen.’
According to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center research, the melanin in dark-skinned black women gives them some sun protection, up to an SPF of 13, and it filters twice as much UV radiation as fair-skinned people. Dr Ngobese warns it’s important to realise that this isn’t enough.
‘Sunscreen needs to become part of a daily routine. I often tell my patients to use an SPF of 30 and higher,’ she says. ‘Even with a melanin advantage, going out into the sun with no protection is dangerous. I urge young people especially to insist their parents use sunscreen because we don’t have a history of using any form sun protection.’
The C word
Skin cancer is something that is rare in the black community and as a result, most don’t even look out for any signs.
‘Skin cancer is more common among other races but the cases of black skin cancer are often discovered once the cancer has progressed,’ says Dr Ngobese.
It’s important to look out for any moles on your body and any changes in your skin. If this occurs get it checked to find out if it’s something serious.
The best way to protect yourself from the sun is to avoid too much exposure, especially on those blistering summer days. Always use sunscreen and re-apply when you are swimming and spending long periods of sun in the pool.
‘Wear sunscreen even in winter; just because you can’t see the sun doesn’t mean it’s not out there just waiting to damage your skin.’
When it comes to picking the correct sunscreen, Dr Ngobese says that race isn’t a huge factor.
‘Buy a sunscreen that is SPF 30 and above. It’s a matter of finding one that works with your skin and doesn’t leave a grey residue. But there are no race considerations to be made when picking one out.’