This year while everyone was waiting in front of their Frank Ocean shrines hoping he’d drop an album soon, his enterprising mom launched a line of sunscreen designed for darker skin tones.
While there’s a pervasive myth that brown skin can go without sunscreen, experts typically advise anyone who spends time under the sun to use protection just in case. Katonya Breaux (better known as Katonya Ocean in my head) spoke to The Cut about her new sunscreen line UnSun, an idea she came up with after struggling to find a good sunscreen to deal with the sun-damaged moles on her face.
“I began using chemical-based sunscreens because they were the ones that would blend into my skin, but they were really irritating,” she says. “I would rub my eye and then all of a sudden my eye would burn and water. I went after a more natural product, a mineral product, but they were so white.” Of course, she tweeted about her frustration.
UnSun is described on its site as “a lightweight broad spectrum face sunscreen that is perfectly mineral tinted to blend in with multiple skin tones that range from fair to olive to the darkest of chocolate.” Breaux also says it has zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as its active ingredients, “so it’s not going to irritate your skin and it’s not going to penetrate into your bloodstream.”
Despite the common knowledge that brown skin serves as a natural UV protectant—per Consumer Report, “medium-dark skin provides an SPF of about 13 and filters twice as much UV radiation as white skin”—sunscreen and SPF have traditionally (and perhaps unwisely) been a long-running non-issue for darker skin tones. Other than at the beach, I’ve rarely used sunscreen at all and last year I switched from an SPF moisturizer to strictly coconut oil because it’s cheaper. When I did opt for sunscreen, zinc oxide products left an unsightly grayish, ashy residue on my face. But maybe that was an issue of not finding the right product.
Individuals with darker skin who tan easily and rarely burn may feel they do not need to use sunscreen. However, like sunburn, a tan is the result of DNA damage from exposure to the sun’s harmful UV radiation. Darker-skinned people may also be wary of using physical sunscreens, especially titanium-based products, because they can look chalky and white on the skin. Newer preparations, however, tend to be micronized, which means the particles are small enough to allow them to blend in and disappear into the skin. Chemical sunscreens are also an option; look for a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15+.
If there’s any other reason to start using sunscreen, it’s because Frank Ocean does, according to his mom. “He does. He’s very supportive. He’s been using sunscreen for a long time. He takes really good of his skin,” says Breaux. It looks like it.
She also talked about how her line helps fill a void in the beauty market, which I wrote about last week in a piece about the ongoing growth and lack of products for women of color. “There some companies doing better, but I don’t think it’s universal just yet. Women of color, we’re just underrepresented in many different areas of fashion and beauty,” says Breaux. “We’re one of the largest purchasing sectors, so we have to be acknowledged. More foundations, more lip colors...It will happen.”
And if you’re curious, the voice on the “Be Yourself” interlude on Frank’s Blond album isn’t his mom but she does have some life tips (I disagree about pimple picking):
In the same vein as “Be Yourself,” where the mother of a friend of Frank delivers advice on how to be safe at school, what’s your motherly advice on beauty?
Wear your sunscreen. Don’t rub your eyes, and don’t pick your pimples. It’s easy when you’re young — it’s what we all do — but they leave scars. And the tissue around your eyes is so thin, it’s just not worth it. Just pat them if they are irritating you. And don’t let guys put their dirty hands on your face. I know it’s cute and it’s romantic, but make them wash their hands first.