New sunscreen choices offer ray of hope for people of color

Undefined Beauty makes R&R Sun Serum, with the goal of appealing to people with a wide range of skin tones. The CEO says there are diverse illustrations as well on the packaging. (Photo by Karina Romero/Cronkite News)

LOS ANGELES – Lou Harris fears little when he spends long days surfing – except maybe long-lasting harm if he were not to wear sunscreen.

If he doesn’t protect himself from the sun, Harris, founder of the Black Surfing Association/East Coast based in Rockaway, New York, says he will burn on his nose, lips and chin.

Harris is a regular sunscreen user, but for many people, choosing a sunscreen isn’t easy. Some sunscreens can leave a white cast on dark skin, which may make some people of color reluctant to wear it regularly.

And while the number of brands catering to different skin tones, surveys indicate people of color want more choices.

After a long, rainy winter in Arizona and California, summer is coming up fast. But not all of those who venture outdoors may view their chances of incurring sun damage the same. In particular, 61% of Blacks and 23% of Latinos said they never wear sunscreen, Consumer Reports found in a 2020 survey.

Even the darkest of skin has a sun protection factor, or SPF, of 13 while dermatologists recommend a minimum of SPF 30 for daily use, Dr. Janiene Luke, residency program director at the Loma Linda University Department of Dermatology in California, explained in a video.

“While it is true that people with darker skin may show delayed signs of photoaging (such as fine lines, wrinkles, sunspots etc.), sun protection is still important,” Luke wrote in an email to Cronkite News.

Those with dark skin are more likely to risk advanced stages of skin cancer, making it potentially more deadly, the American Academy of Dermatology reports. Also, too much sun exposure is one of the factors that can lead to developing patches of darker skin, called hyperpigmentation, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

For all people no matter what skin tone, “it’s essential to choose a sunscreen with a high SPF value and apply it generously before going out in the sun, and often reapply, especially after swimming or sweating,” said Dr. Sanusi Umar, a dermatologist in Manhattan Beach, California.

A 2022 study published in the medical journal MDEdge Dermatology states that using sunscreens that disappear into the skin offer ultraviolet protection, but do little to thwart damage from visible sunlight.

Market research firm Mintel, which monitors the $1.8 billion sun protection market, found 84% of Black sunscreen users said there aren’t enough choices on the market for their particular skin tones.

“The lack of sunscreen made specifically for darker skin tones plays a role in Black consumers’ limited engagement in the category,” stated Carson Kitzmiller, senior beauty and personal care analyst at Mintel, in the report last month.

But increasingly, sunscreens are coming to store shelves that are both fully effective and made for darker skin tones. That’s important since consumers put a higher priority on how they appear wearing sunscreen than on its effectiveness. The MDEdge Dermatology study pointed to a web survey by cosmetic chain Sephora that found 31% of those responding seek “cosmetic elegance” from a sunscreen, followed by product performance at 10%.

Some of the new products were developed by entrepreneurs who themselves are people of color and could sense what the market needed.

“Sunscreens and skin care products have come a long way in the formulation and cosmetic elegance, and I think this is partly due to the increase in minority founders (and) minority-led companies we have seen over time,” said Luke.

Finding an inclusive, cast-free sunscreen is easier than some might think.

Supergoop! promotes itself as having more than 40 options for all skin types, tones and routines, while Undefined Beauty makes R&R Sun Serum, billed as “water-resistant and with a universally flattering tint.”

“Seeing is believing is becoming,” said Undefined Beauty CEO Dorian Morris. “We incorporate diverse illustrations on the packaging because representation matters.” She said with the launch of R & R Sun Serum, her goal was to “undefine” what the sun care category looks like.

Sunscreens should be inclusive, she said, and part of that is changing the narrative. “Within the Black community, SPF is often overlooked as we feel that due to our melanin-rich skin, the sun will not harm us” overlooking the fact that the sun is still delivering dangerous, damaging UV rays, Morris added.

Harris, whose passion is introducing people of color to surfing, looks to Zinka sunscreen for his sun protection. It’s a sunscreen brand that comes in bright colors – red, blue, green and others – rather than trying to only match skin tones.

Harris said he first heard about Zinka after members in his association started showing up with blue, orange or pink nose coats. He quickly noticed that their skin was not burning with the new product. Zinka has been the only sunscreen in which Harris said he has seen instant results, especially after burning on his nose, lips and chin.

The company takes such endorsements in stride.

“We just really want people to have fun and enjoy our products while getting superior sun protection,” said Lisa Bohenski, general manager of Zinka Sunscreen.

Karina Romero kah-REE-nah roh-MAI-roh (she/her/hers)
News Reporter, Los Angeles

Karina Romero expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communication and a minor in fashion. Romero, a digital reporter in the Los Angeles bureau, recently worked as a social media intern for a nonprofit in Arizona and built a personal consumer fashion blog.