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Summer Skincare Checklist for Melanin-Rich Skin

Yes, it’s about wearing sunscreen, but that’s not all

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Summer and fun are the ultimate power couple. The pool time and beach days. The hours spent frolicking outdoors with friends and family. The ability to spotlight an extensive sundress collection — reasons to love warm weather abound.

Yet while the overall vibe may be a bit more carefree, there is one thing to take super-seriously, and it’s caring for and protecting your skin, no matter what your complexion’s hue.

“The sun is going to be higher in the sky and because of the physics of how the rays hit your face, you’re going to be more vulnerable to just getting unnecessary sun exposure during the summer,” says Angela Lamb, MD, associate professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. 

Some people with darker skin may think they get a pass, but that’s far from true. 

“Yes, more melanin provides some protection for your skin, but it’s not a complete sunblock, so people with darker skin tones can still get sunburned,” explains Rosemarie Ingleton, MD, medical director of Ingleton Dermatology and founder of ROSE Ingleton MD skincare.

<p>Pierce Jackson</p> Dr. Rosemarie Ingleton

Pierce Jackson

Dr. Rosemarie Ingleton

And it’s not just making SPF a prerequisite for leaving the house! There’s more that those with melanin-rich skin need to be especially conscious of come summertime, like exacerbating pesky hyperpigmentation. W tackle how best to give summertime TLC to darker skin with dermatologist-recommended tips and product picks.

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Switch up your skincare

The trifecta of heat, humidity, and sun exposure calls for some regimen rejiggering. There are some things to add, and some to swap out.

First, consider storing your creamy cleanser and tagging in a lighter, gentle gel formula, says Dr. Ingleton. (She recommends her SuperFruit Brightening Cleanser because it deep cleans without drying skin.)

If you have oilier skin, you may also want to switch to a lightweight moisturizer. Think of it like this: You wouldn’t rock a shearling coat in summer; similarly you might not want to coat your skin in heaviness when you’re prone to extra sweat. Plus, by using a lighter lotion, you may be more inclined to add the extra layer of sunscreen.

As far as skincare supplementation goes, an exfoliating formulation can keep pores from clogging up.

<p>Steven Duarte</p> Dr. Angela Lamb

Steven Duarte

Dr. Angela Lamb

“If your skin can tolerate it, you might want to incorporate a toner with glycolic or salicylic acid to speed up cell turnover,” suggests Dr. Lamb.

And if you’re not already using a vitamin C serum, it’s time to start. “It’s important all year round but it’s especially crucial in the summer since it helps protect skin against UV damage,” says Dr. Ingleton.

Meet your sunscreen match

So what’s the best sunscreen out there for those with darker skin tones? Most derms will say it’s the one you’ll wear with consistency.

First, some sunscreen 101. There are two types: physical (mineral) and chemical. Mineral has ingredients like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide that create a barrier on skin to deflect the sun’s UV rays while chemical sunscreens use compounds such as oxybenzone and avobenzone to absorb the UV light.

<p>Getty Images</p>

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For many with darker skin, physical sunscreens are less appealing because they have a reputation for reading chalky on dark skin. Chemical sunblocks don’t have that tendency. “I always recommend the Supergoop Unseen Sunscreen SPF 40 for those with darker skin tones since it’s really invisible,” says Dr. Ingleton.

But there is a benefit to physical formulas: They work instantly after application while chemical ones need to be on skin a solid 15 to 20 minutes before you go out, says Dr. Lamb. Thankfully they’ve have been upgraded in recent years to be micronized so the white cast isn’t as noticeable.Some of Dr. Lamb’s faves include Black Girl Sunscreen and Charlotte Tilbury, two hybrid formulas that contain both chemical and physical ingredients.

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Up your SPF


According to the FDA, the SPF number refers to how much UV radiation is required to produce sunburn on protected skin relative to the amount required to produce sunburn on unprotected skin. Extra melanin may yield the blessing of base protection (a natural SPF between 8 and 13, depending on your tone), but supplementary safeguarding is still essential.

Dr. Lamb suggests reaching for SPF 50, particularly when the sun is at its peak, but more important than the number on the bottle is whether you’ll actually use the contents..

“While it’s true that higher SPF products can protect you from sunburn better than lower SPF, I believe the best sunscreen is one you’ll actually use and reapply,” says Dr. Ingleton. “So, I recommend any broad-spectrum sunscreen that’s SPF 30+, reapplied every two hours if you’re out in the sun.”

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Even things out

Ask dermatologists the number one concern for patients with dark skin, and odds are they’ll say hyperpigmentation.

In the summer, discoloration is magnified for several reasons; first off and most obvious, with the additional sun exposure dark spots can get even darker. “Then, acne can also flare up in summer thanks to pores becoming clogged by the increased oil and sweat and that leaves behind dark spots in those with melanin-rich skin,” explains Dr. Ingleton.

For prevention, that’s where the sunscreen and hat wearing come in.

For treating hyperpigmentation, you may want to enlist a product with actives like kojic, mandelic, or tranexamic acid. “Any of those types of products that are made to block pigment will be a good thing to apply if you want to get ahead of excess pigmentation,” says Dr. Lamb.

You can opt for a targeted spot treatment, an all-over serum, or do a combo of both. Over-the-counter formulas like Topicals Faded Serum (Dr. Lamb’s pick) and SkinMedica Even & Correct Dark Spot Cream help even things out.

Hyperpigmentation treatments can make you more sun sensitive so just know that wearing sunscreen is even more of a must — just in case we weren’t clear the first 10 times!

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