Patient Dermatology Education

Sun Protection for Skin of Color

Sun Protection for Skin of Color

David Rodriguez, MD

Ultraviolet (UV) light is well known to cause damage to the skin. People with skin of color need
to be aware of the dangers of UV light in order to maintain healthy skin.

What are UV rays?

The sun produces ultraviolet (UV) radiation, some of which (UVA and UVB rays) cause
sunburn. In cities that lie within the Sunbelt of the country, sun avoidance is difficult. Some
medications make the skin even more sensitive to the sun. Repeated episodes of sunburn lead to
skin diseases. Wrinkling, premature aging, sun spots and even cancer can develop from repeated
sunburn. Year-round protection with avoidance and the daily use of sunscreen is key to
protecting oneself from UV damage.

Why should I use sunscreen?

The regular use of sunscreen helps prevent skin diseases. Sunscreens absorb the harmful
UVA and UVB rays. Sunscreens are categorized by their SPF number, which stands for Sun
Protection Factor.

With so many SPF numbers, which one should I choose?

The Skin of Color Society recommends using sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15, with a
broad spectrum of protection against both UVA and UVB rays

What does SPF 15 stand for?

If it normally took you 10 minutes to redden your skin without sun protection, an SPF 15
sunscreen would delay this reaction by 100 minutes. While this is a general rule, it is usually not
possible to delay sunburn 15 times as long because sunscreen usually wears off with perspiration
and water.

Why should people with skin of color use sunscreen?

It is a myth that individuals of color do not require the use of sunscreen or as much
sunscreen as fair skinned individuals. While skin of color does not tan or burn easily, the damage
caused by UV rays still occurs with sun exposure. According to the Skin of Cancer Foundation,
the incidence of skin cancer in Hispanics is increasing. Individuals with skin of color may have
more serious consequences from skin cancer than Caucasians

What is the UV index?

The UV Index is a forecast made by the National Weather Service and calculates the
amount of UV radiation that will reach the surface of the earth on a daily basis. The table below
describes the danger at each level and gives recommendations for sun protection. The higher the
number for a particular day, the higher the amount of dangerous UV radiation reaches the Earth’s
surface. Simply put, the higher the number, the faster an individual will get sunburned. A reading
of 2 or less means there is low risk of sunburn and no extra precautions are needed. A reading of
6-7 means there is a high risk of sunburn and sunscreen with a SPF of at least 15 is needed along
with protective clothing. Forecasts are made on a daily basis. Before planning your outdoor
activities, it would be a good idea to look at the UV Index for your area and plan accordingly.

UV Index Description Media Graphic Color Recommended Protection


No danger to the average person


Wear sunglasses on bright days; use sunscreen if there is snow on the ground, which reflects UV radiation, or if you have particularly fair skin.


Little risk of harm from unprotected sun exposure


Wear sunglasses and use sunscreen, cover the body with clothing and a hat, and seek shade around midday when the sun is most intense.


High risk of harm from unprotected sun exposure


Wear sunglasses and use sunscreen having SPF 15 or higher, cover the body with sun protective clothing and a wide-brim hat, and reduce time in the sun from two hours before to three hours after solar noon (roughly 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM during summer in zones that observe daylight saving time).


Very high risk of harm from unprotected sun exposure


Wear sunscreen, a shirt, sunglasses, and a hat. Do not stay out in the sun for too long.


Extreme risk of harm from unprotected sun exposure


Take all precautions, including: wear sunglasses and use sunscreen, cover the body with a long-sleeve shirt and trousers, wear a very broad hat, and avoid the sun from two hours before to three hours after solar noon.
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