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dark-skinned woman applying white cream on her hand while standing on the sand in the summer

SUNBURN FOR BLACK SKIN: THE #1 TIP YOU NEED TO KNOW

Myth 1. Black skin doesn’t need sunscreen. 

Myth 2. Black skin doesn’t get sunburnt. 

Myth 3. Everyone experiences sunburn the same way. 

All of these myths are false.

Black people do get sunburnt. Which means Black people need sunscreen.

But not everyone, Black people in particular, has the same experience with getting a sunburn.

So much of the talk around sunburns excludes Black people. That’s something that needs to change, because sunburns on Black skin are a real thing.

Here’s my story.

I don’t remember my first experience getting sunburned. I do remember my mom and other adults pointing out my peeling nose and face as a kid. But like kids do, I shrugged my shoulders and went about my businesses. 

Each time it happened, I never gave the idea of a sunburn a second thought.

Fast forward a few decades to a summer in Brazil.

Who is really thinking about the consequences of the sun when you’re in a country as beautiful as Brazil?

No one. 

Well, no one Black.

Especially when the consequences of a sunburn are limited to your white friends complaining about the pain and being red. If you’ve never felt that particular discomfort, and no one you know has either, why would it occupy your thoughts?

Why would you change your ways?

I won’t speak for every person with dark skin, but I have noticed a general trend among dark-skinned folk of getting sunburned without noticing. Myself included. And I don’t mean an hour or two later realizing you’ve been out in the sun too long. It’s more like a week or two.

Apparently it’s quite common that when your skin is dark, you don’t know you’ve got a sunburn until much, much later. By that, I mean when the damage is already done and all that’s left to do is hide it as much as you can.

That was my experience when I woke up one morning with my face and body peeling off.

I’d spent almost two weeks in Brazil, just about on the equator in a place where it was about 80 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. Out on the beach. Out on a boat. Out walking the city.

And about two weeks after I returned home, my skin started peeling off my body.

There’s nothing more gross.

It didn’t hurt. My skin wasn’t red or inflamed. 

It just looked bad. Really bad.

Like, “How do I hide this, cuz half my face is peeling off and I have to go into work tomorrow?” bad…

But when you’ve grown up with dark skin and without the normalized “ouch” that comes from being out in the sun too long, how do you know what do you do?

You don’t. Most of us don’t know how to treat a sunburn for Black skin.

But I can say from experience that you moisturize like crazy to hide all that flaking skin. And if you’re Black, you’ve been taught how to do that from birth, because we all grew up hearing that ashy isn’t cute. Neither is peeling skin.

So grab your favorite lotion, body butter, body oil, or whatever products you use and go to town. Here are some body oils to help with moisturizing your skin and hiding the peeling and flaking.

Past that, here’s what my research says about treating sunburn. Most of it pertains to immediately after the sunburn happens, which might not apply to you if you’re Black.

  1. Get out of the sun. Your skin is damaged and needs time to heal.
  2. Use a moisturizer. It will help cover the fact that your entire body is shedding its skin, so you’ll look better.
  3. Drink lots of water. Apparently, sunburns are dehydrating. You skin needs moisture to repair itself, so drink LOTS of water.
  4. If you have access to aloe, use it to relieve the burning sensation and the inflammation in your skin. 
  5. Wear sunglasses and cover your face when you’re outdoors. 

Check out this post on how to prevent sunburn in the first place if you have dark skin. Protect yourself, whether you have dar skin or not.