I Didn't Think I Could Get A Sunburn Until It Happened

It's not just white people who think black people can't get sunburned; I was in denial until my skin started to sting. Now, I won't go in the sun without packing these three things...
Publish date:
April 9, 2013
accessories, spf, sunscreen, Australian Gold, l' oreal, sunburns, ethnicity, aloe

I’m not one to partake in the joys of nature--I have no desire to. I fear its wrath on my hair, and I have a major insect phobia. I’ve washed bugs and leaves out of my hair, in horror, days after dog-park hopping.

However, I’ve never shied away from was the sun, because black people don’t get sunburns.

Then I got one. And it hurt.

While planning for fun day at the beach with some friends, I made sure I was totally prepared: ridding my body of any embarrassing sprouts of hair, laying out extra underwear and clothes, painting my toenails and fingernails beachy colours, practicing my beach strut with my new bikini on (completely Beyonce-inspired--a cross between a “Crazy in Love” walk and seductive “Dance for You” saunter) and, most importantly, packing my sun-damage kit for my natural hair.

Looking back, this kit was comically thorough, including a spray bottle full of water, shea butter, my trusty apple cider vinegar hair rinse, and a microfibre towel.

As I dashed out the door to catch my ride, I threw a bottle of low-SPF sunscreen in my bag as an afterthought, because, in my naive mind, black people did not get sunburns.

We set up on the beach on a prime spot with maximum sun exposure, and while my friends (with varying degrees of lower melanin) generously slathered on their sunscreen, I lightly slicked some over my skin.

We tossed. We turned. A few reapplied. I spritzed my hair.

An hour later, one friend proclaimed that she was burned. I smirked and thought, “Already?! You poor fair thing!” We took a break for some food in the shade and resolved to take a quick dip in the water and see what else was on the strip in the beach town.

After I left the water, I felt a prickly tingling on my forearms and face.

“Guys, something bit me,” I said.

Everyone surveyed their skins for bites. No one else was bit.

One friend sheepishly offered an idea: ”Maybe you have a sunburn?”

After refraining from delivering my initial reaction (yelling “BLACK PEOPLE DON’T GET SUNBURNS!” loud enough for everyone on the beach to hear), I instead began rapid-fire questioning my sunburn-experienced friends.

“Aren’t sunburns usually red?”

“Doesn’t it start peeling?”

“Shouldn’t it hurt more?”

“Why is it more itchy than sore?”

“How do I know if it’s fully healed?”

“Can I not go out in the sun anymore?”

It absolutely was a sunburn, and I was in denial. I was young, black and sunburned.

It didn’t turn red. My skin didn’t peel. The prickly feeling was more annoying than painful. It went away within two weeks, but the affected patches were sensitive to heat and touch for a month.

I still go out in the sun and to the beach, but I bring a few more things with me now.


Before I got my first sunburn, I would look at people carrying umbrellas in the sun like they were crazy. A second round of burns and repeated fainting due to heatstroke changed that.

Carrying a parasol gives me my own source of portable shade, which is great for those “maximum sun exposure” situations. It also makes me feel ladylike and fancy, which is apropos because I’m a delicate flower.

You can find some really lovely ones on Etsy, in a range of prices and designs.


Just in case those pesky UV rays actually touch my skin, I want to be sure that there is one last line of defense. L’Oreal Sublime SPF 50+ spray is easy to apply, and is invisible on all skin colors.

I also make sure to reapply. More melanin doesn’t mean you’re exempt from that rule.


If I get burned despite my preparation, I bring along some aloe. In a pinch, I used some of my shea butter to soothe the sunburned area, but aloe gel is the most effective way to relieve the discomfort.

Australian Gold Soothing Aloe After Sun Gel has aloe (obviously) plus vitamin E and green tea for extra healing and protecting benefits.

Do you remember your first sunburn? Did you freak out like I did?