Do African Americans and other people of color need a sunscreen specially formulated for them? An entrepreneur who says they do has developed the first sun block targeted at blacks, Latinos, Indians and Asians.
But GlobalSun may be filling a marketing niche rather than an actual dermatological need, according to one expert I spoke to.
The product was launched in May by Marcia Williams, a former speech pathologist from Atlanta who is now a doctor of naturopathy, an alternative system of medicine that claims to be based on the healing power of nature. After scouring the market, Williams said she found no sunscreen that met the needs of people of color and decided to create one. (In a quick Internet search, I couldn't find one either.)
What are those needs? Well one of them is cosmetic. "My husband is darker, [and] when he put on sunscreen at the beach, he would get this chalky white residue, and he was getting all these looks and he was uncomfortable," Williams said in an interview. "And he said, 'We need some sunscreen for black people.' "
Fair enough (though some sunscreens don't leave that residue). Another thing we know is that some African Americans and other dark-skinned people believe they are immune to skin cancer. They're not. Anyone can get it, so everyone should wear sunscreen. While blacks are less susceptible to skin cancer because of their skin tone, it's often diagnosed much later in African Americans and leads to a much higher percentage of deaths, according to Dawn Holman, a behavioral scientist in the division of cancer prevention and control for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"I want people of color to understand how important it is to use sunscreen," adds Williams. "And it's not just for the beach. It's for construction workers. Or playing golf ... any time you're out in the sun."
Williams says she also took many years to find the right combination of oils for people with darker skin, and to develop a way to keep the product from feeling greasy.
But according to Ron Moy, past president of the American Academy of Dermatology, there's really no reason people of color can't use the same sunscreens as whites to protect their skin from UVA and UVB rays.
"There's no difference," said Moy, a dermatologist who practices in Beverly Hills. "They can just use regular sunscreen."
As for the oils, Moy said, "we all have dry skin as we get older," and moisturizers and lotions should work as well for one race as another. He did agree with Holman that guys are a tougher sell than women when it comes to wearing sunscreen because we're not as accustomed to having lotions on our skin.
The bottom line is to wear the stuff, which, unfortunately, many of us don't (including me). In a survey released in May, the CDC found that just 14.3 percent of men and 29.9 percent of women say they regularly apply sunscreen to both their faces and other places like hands and arms.