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Sun damage from UV exposure happens via two mechanisms. UVB rays are directly absorbed by DNA and induce structural DNA damage. UVA rays are responsible for indirect DNA damage by the generation of reactive oxygen species (free radicals) which cause single-strand breaks in DNA.
While there is far less anecdotal evidence of UV induced skin cancers in darker Asian and African skin as opposed to Caucasian skin, we do not know if this is due to a paucity of data, cultural and lifestyle reasons, or structural differences in the way darker skin deals with sun damage to skin cells.
Darker skin tones are generally less susceptible to sunburn and quicker to experience tanning on sun exposure. Melanin offers some photoprotection of around SPF 2-4 and equivalent UVAPF. However, while eumelanin in the skin protects cell nuclei from UV radiation, pheomelanin seems to produce free radicals when exposed to UVA rays, inducing DNA damage.
UVA rays also are of longer wavelengths than UVB rays and are able to penetrate much deeper into the skin, affecting skin elasticity, causing fine lines, and skin ageing.
So, is there really a need for SPF for dark skin? Absolutely! People with darker skin should take sun protection seriously. Look for a moderate SPF with a high UVA (PA) rating. UVA protection is important for everyone, but this is amplified if you have darker skin.
Remember, darker skin doesn’t burn as easily, so it’s easy to miss an early warning sign of sun exposure. The effects of UVA exposure are seen more in the long term. Hence good UVA protection is vital for darker skin tones.
To know more about how dark skin tans on sun exposure, read our blog on the topic!