Last Updated on January 6th, 2020
If you are just starting an acne treatment program, one of the first things you need to do is to choose the right sunscreen for your acne-prone skin. Protecting your skin from the sun is essential to the long-term success of your acne treatment program, especially if you have Asian, brown, or black skin.
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The way most of us relate to the sun for our skin care is that the sun is either totally good or totally bad. If you love to lie out in the sun, you might argue that tanning your skin makes imperfections harder to see—and the fact is, it does. A great tan can shift attention from blemished skin to a manly torso or shapely legs. But unnaturally golden skin can become freckled and spotted skin, and the brown (or even black) imperfections in the skin will be worst where skin has not been treated.
At the opposite extreme, some people always cover every inch of skin with sunscreen before they step outdoors. When the national health service of Australia started encouraging people to slather themselves with sunscreen in the early 1990’s, they were surprised that melanoma rates actually went up, instead of down. It turns out that vitamin D protects against skin cancer, and the skin needs about 20 minutes of exposure to ultraviolet light, without sunscreen to block ultraviolet light, every day in the summer and even more during the winter if you live in a temperate or northerly climate.
Unprotected skin out in the sun for hours each day is not healthy. Overprotected skin that never makes vitamin D is not healthy, either. Everyone, whether they have acne or not, needs at least a little sun, but also a little sunscreen to keep skin vibrant, unblemished, and, it is to be hoped, cancer-free.
Generally speaking, fair skin usually burns, while black skin never burns. Dermatologists classify skin color into Fitzpatrick skin types. Skin type I is fair skin that burns easily when exposed to sun. People who have this skin type often have blond or red hair and blue eyes. Sunburned skin freckles in childhood, and forms age spots in adulthood. People who have skin type I never tan.
Skin type II is slightly more pigmented. It burns easily but can tan. Skin types III and IV are the Mediterranean or Middle Eastern “olive” skin types. Type III skin may burn, but tans easily. Type IV skin seldom burns, and tans very quickly.
Fitzpatrick skin type V is dark brown skin that rarely burns. And Fitzpatrick skin type VI is black skin that never burns, that is, unless it is being treated for acne.
There is one thing that everyone who has ever been told about their skin type needs to remember about skin types and acne: Acne medication can make every skin type behave as if it were Fitzpatrick type I. Even if you have deep, dark black skin, if you use benzoyl peroxide, or if your doctor has prescribed Retin-A or Accutane, going out into the sun can cause irritation, inflammation, and burning.
And if you have Asian, brown, or black skin, that irritation can leave permanent discoloration on your skin. Even if you have dark brown or black skin, you may need a sunscreen when you are treating acne-prone skin, although just SPF 15 may be enough. Especially fair skin in tropical sun may need SPF 70.
Many people who have acne hate the feel of sunscreen even though they know they need it. The problem usually is that they are not using the right type of sunscreen for their type of skin. Here are some basic guidelines.
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