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“To date, I haven’t ever seen a black woman advertise a sunscreen”

The representation of people of colour in the sun-care market has traditionally been non-existent. But are things beginning to change?

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By Elle Turner on

When you think of sun-cream adverts, time and time again we’re faced with the same trope – swimsuit-clad white women frolicking in the sea, straw sunhat in hand. But when, if ever, can you remember seeing a sun-care advert featuring a person of colour? “To date, I haven’t ever seen a black woman advertise a sunscreen,” says Dija Ayodele, skincare expert and founder of the Black Skin Directory, a service designed to connect women of colour with expert skin-care professionals. The beauty industry’s treatment of black women in advertising, historically, has been chequered. From the misjudged Dove body-lotion advert that showed a black woman morph into a white woman, to Nivea’s disastrous “White is right” skin-lightening campaign, brands have failed to celebrate a diverse range of skintones for years. “But, why?” asks Ayodele. With the UK sun-care market worth an estimated £254 million, according to Mintel’s 2017 Suncare UK report, and non-white ethnicities set to make up a third of our population, not only is the underrepresentation ludicrous, it’s having wider ramifications, too.

A study published in 2014 found that, while caucasian skintones are at a higher risk of suffering from melanomas, the mortality rate for black people suffering from sun-related diseases is much higher, as the problem is often not picked up until it’s too late. “Darker skin does have more melanin in it, but all skin types can suffer with damage and all skin types need protection,” says aesthetic nurse Anna Baker, who specialises in photodynamic therapy for skin cancers. “Darker skin does burn, but the redness doesn’t necessarily show as well. However, just because we cannot see it, it does not mean that it isn’t there,” she adds. The problem is that as darker skintones appear to burn less than caucasian skintones, “it gives a false perception that sunscreen is not required,” says Ayodele. “Melanin affords a low degree of sun protection (approximately SPF 13), but that in itself is not enough,” she explains. “Sunscreen and sun protection in the black community are not something the majority of us are brought up to appreciate,” Ayodele says. And the lack of engagement from many sun-care brands with a wider variety of skintones is adding to the problem. “Honestly, it’s been underwhelming for years,” says Shontay Lundy – who founded Black Girl Sunscreen, a mineral sun-care brand specifically designed for darker skintones, in 2017 – “almost to the point where people of colour don’t believe they need to wear sunscreen in the sun because of the lack of ethnic diversity in advertising.” It’s a matter of education, of course, but sun-care brands have been aware of this problem for years and yet they continue to cater, almost exclusively, to the same caucasian customer base. It’s clear that more needs to be done by those in the industry to deliver products that appeal to everyone, starting with sunscreens that work across darker skintones and advertised by women of all colours.

There was no one interested in making a natural alternative to chemical-based sunscreens that was tinted in a way that made it more universal

In practical terms, sunscreen comes in two forms – chemical (which absorbs, breaks down and disperses harmful rays within their bonds) and physical (which contains solid mineral filters to reflect sun rays). Both are effective, “but physical sunscreen can leave a white or purple mask on the skin, making it tricky for some people to find a sunscreen lotion they get on with,” says Ayodele. “A mineral pigment will always cover the skin as the particles can’t penetrate,” explains Lina Blahr, head of national training at skin-care brand SkinCeuticals. It means that brands have to work harder at modifying the tint in mineral sunscreens to make them truly universal. As for chemical sunscreens, many swear by them – “they leave no evidence and there’s a wide variety of choice,” says Ayodele. They sink in quick, offer very effective protection and feel much more lightweight. However, they’re slightly more likely to irritate sensitive skin types (as they are absorbed into skin), and a recent study has suggested that some ingredients are harmful to the environment. The result is that the choice for darker skintones is limited.

But change is seemingly afoot. Women like Lundy set about creating solutions to the problem herself – Black Girl Sunscreen (which is going viral on Reddit for its seamless finish on darker skintones) came about “in response to dire need,” she says. And Katonya Breaux, the mother of singer Frank Ocean, set up Unsun, a sun-care brand for all skintones in 2016, after becoming “immensely frustrated” with the products available to her. “There was no one interested in making a natural alternative to chemical-based sunscreens that was tinted in a way that made it more universal,” she tells me. Thus, her mineral sun cream is tinted to account for tones from fair to olive to dark. Priced at $29 and shipped internationally, the brand is making waves. “The response has been fantastic,” she says. “We are receiving so much support from women all over the world, but there is much more work to be done,” she adds. She’s not wrong. Of the numerous brands I emailed to ask what was being done to make the sun-care industry more inclusive, the silence, in general, spoke volumes.

That said, make-up brands like Fenty, Glossier and Huda, who have shown a commitment to inclusivity from the start, are outshining their competitors, with Rihanna’s make-up brand on track to become the top celebrity-founded make-up company in the world and Glossier’s earnings skyrocketing (last year the company tripled their 2016 takings). Unsurprisingly, the rest of the industry is taking note. “Women who were once all but ignored by the majority of the beauty market are now being courted,” wrote The Business Of Fashion recently. It stands to reason that they’ll soon turn their attention to sun care – “a group that could be an even bigger market because it would include both women and men,” BOF points out. It’s much-needed progress, of course, but Ayodele warns against companies cashing in for the wrong reasons. “Any brand that is not genuinely interested in diversity will soon lose its goodwill.” So, what’s needed? “Going forward, education and awareness around melanoma and sunburn for the black community is necessary,” says Lundy. What’s more, “inclusivity should appear at all levels,” says Ayodele – from hiring women of colour in the decision-making processes to making sure the marketing and advertising reflects all skintones. “These are all factors a genuinely inclusive brand will consider to make sure that the narrative of sun protection in the black community is changed,” says Ayodele. “Better late,” she adds, “than never.”

5 of the best inclusive sun creams

Unsun SPF 30 tinted mineral sunscreen

Designed as a natural alternative to chemical sunscreens, this contains nourishing shea butter, vitamin E and fruit extracts and protects against both UVA and UVB. The physical block has been tinted to suit all skintones, though it works best for medium and darker skins. Despite a fairly thick consistency, it blends easily and melts into skin for an undetectable satin finish.


Glossier invisible shield daily sunscreen spf 35

Glossier's Invisible Shield, is exactly that – invisible. The serum-like texture feels light, moisturising and silky rather than greasy, and sinks in super quick. The protection is largely chemical – though it doesn't contain the chemicals currently coming under fire for harming the environment – but a breathable, pollution-blocking veil is also created using vegetable extract. And, as an added bonus, antioxidants help to neutralise free radicals and give skin a glow boost.


Black Girl Sunscreen

Made with nourishing natural ingredients like carrot-seed oil, jojoba oil and almond oil, and specifically designed for darker skintones, it's tinted with a mineral filter that creates a seamless skin-like finish on skin. It's lightweight and smooth, without feeling too silicon-y and, since it's not very oily, it would work well with blemish-prone skin types.


Murad city skin broad spectrum spf 50

This is very pricey, but it is excellent. It offers super-high protection against UVA and UVB, as well as protecting against blue light from electronic devices, pollution and infrared radiation. The mineral fluid comes out a slightly worrying orange colour, but sinks in quick and dries to an invisible matte. And, infused with vitamin C, it helps brighten your complexion, too.


LA ROCHE POSAY Anthelios Protective Oil SPF 50+

Though chemical sunscreens can be known to irritate, La Roche Posay's ultra-gentle protective oil has been formulated with sensitive skin in mind and, like Glossier, doesn't contain the harmful chemicals being banned. The spray nozzle quickly coats the body in a clear moisturising mist, which keeps skin feeling hydrated, and the broad spectrum SPF 50+ provides very high protection.



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