Sunscreen for Dark Skin: Why We Want Sunscreen with No White Cast
Skincare experts advise us to use sunscreen everyday as the single most important step you can take to care for your skin. However, the belief that people with darker skin tones do not need sunscreen is a common -- yet false -- myth. People with darker skin tones are less likely to experience sunburn after prolonged sun exposure, and the common signs of aging – specifically wrinkles -- take longer to appear in the darker range of skin tones. This leads many to think that darker skin is not damaged or aged by the sun. However, while darker skin is more resistant to sunburns than lighter skin, it still needs protection from long term sun damage that ages skin and leads to problems with hyperpigmentation.
One of the Best Products for Hyperpigmentation is Sunscreen
Hyperpigmentation is a common concern for people with melanated skin and using sunscreen every day helps prevent dark marks. In lighter skin, the sun causes short-term damage that leads to burns, and long-term sun damage that leads to premature aging, fine lines and wrinkles. For those of us with darker skin, it takes more intense sun exposure to cause a burn, but long term sun damage can still result in aging that leads to hyperpigmentation, an uneven skin tone and wrinkles. While the short term results of sun expose range from burning to tanning based on your skin tone, people with darker skin still need to use sunscreen as part of their daily routine to prevent darks marks and hyperpigmentation, which is a long term result from sun exposure.
And let's not forget that in addition to beauty benefits, sunscreen is important for skin health. Since 1 in 40 women will get melanoma in their lifetime and Black people in the US tend to be diagnosed at later stages and have worse outcomes with skin cancer, wearing sunscreen is an easy way to protect yourself. And while there is less research in Latino populations, we can consider some of the issues related to skin tone to be the same.
Now let's consider what to look for when shopping for sunblock for dark skin.
Three Features of the Best Sunscreens for Dark Skin
A Good SPF for Dark Skin Starts with Broad Spectrum Protection
Check your labels and look for sunscreen products with broad-spectrum coverage, which means it protects against both UVA and UVB light -- two types of ultraviolet light that are always present -- even when it’s cloudy and during the winter months, so it’s important to use sunscreen on a daily basis, no matter the weather or season.
UVA light is lower energy, but it penetrates into the deeper layers of the skin and causes the long-term damage that leads to aging and skin discoloration. UVB light is higher energy and causes tanning and burning - the short-term damage from excess exposure to the sun
One of the major benefits of having darker skin is our natural sun protection is provided by a large amount of melanin, the pigment that gives skin its natural color. Melanin provides some burn protection from the harmful effects of UVB light, giving darker skin a natural SPF of 15. But that is not enough to protect you from the long-term damage and hyperpigmentation caused by UVA light, which is a common concern for people with dark tones. So, you need to review both types of sun protection levels in your products.
The Best Sunscreens for Melanin Skin Report Both SPF and PA+ Protection Levels
Sun Protection Factor (SPF) is a measure of how well a sunscreen will protect your skin from UVB light. It’s important to note that sunscreens will not protect your skin against UVA light unless the product specifically mentions it provides broad spectrum protection, which protects against both types of ultraviolet light. If your goal were only to prevent sunburn, which is caused by UVB light, then knowing the SPF level is enough. However, if your goal is to prevent long term damage caused by UVA light, you need to know the PA grade, which is specific to UVA light protection. Most simply, the more pluses (+'s) the better, so look for products with at least PA+++ levels of UVA protection.
When it comes to SPF levels for UVB protection, products can range from 15 to 100, but more is not always better. An SPF of 30 is not double the protection of SPF 15: SPF 15 blocks 93% of ultraviolet rays, while SPF 30 blocks 97%, and SPF 50 blocks 98%. So for daily use, an SPF of 30 is enough.
A Tinted Sunscreen for Dark Skin Protects Against Visible Light
Visible, or blue, light is simply the light that we can see. In addition to natural sources of visible light from the sun, we get significant blue light exposure from the light emitted by our phone and computer screens. Like sunlight, blue light from our screens can cause skin reactions that lead to hyperpigmentation. However, a unique feature of this type of light is that it stimulates the hyperpigmentation response in people with darker, not lighter skin tones. Specifically, on the Fitzpatrick Scale of I-VI, the blue light effect is seen in skin types III and darker.
Fortunately, tinted sunscreens made with iron oxides provide protection from blue light and the best protection is provided by formulas that contain both iron oxides and zinc oxide.
Since the blue light effects that cause hyperpigmentation are unique to darker skin tones, the specific recommendations for the best sunscreen for dark skin include products that offer broad-spectrum protection against UVA and UVB light, PLUS visible and blue light protection to protect against all light types that cause hyperpigmentation in people with darker skin tones.
Chemical vs. Mineral Sunscreen for Dark Skin
These contain organic compounds that are absorbed into the skin and work by changing UV light into heat through chemical reactions, which is then released from the skin. They provide broad spectrum protection against UVA and UVB light, but do not protect against blue light. While there is concern about the health effects of some chemical sunscreens, avobenzone is one of the better chemical sunscreen ingredients available and provides broad spectrum protection as it is effective against both UVA and UVB light.
Chemical sunscreens tend to be thinner and easy to spread, making them ideal for daily use. They are also made with less expensive ingredients and tend to be more affordable. Since the chemical protectant isn’t physical, you need less to shield your skin and the product goes on clear (a huge plus for darker skin tones). However, it must be noted that you should apply this type of sunscreen at least 20 minutes before going out into the sun. Additionally, you need to re-apply the product frequently. Keep in mind, chemical sunscreens can clog your pores, (leading to breakouts), and can be irritating to people with sensitive skin.
Also known as physical sunscreen, mineral sunscreens by sitting on top of your skin to deflect and scatter UV light away from the skin. Their active mineral ingredients, mainly titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, provide broad spectrum protection when used together and tinted formulas made with iron oxides provide blue light protection.
These minerals are expensive to produce, so these products tend to cost more. As mineral products, they are non-irritating and are great to use on sensitive skin. They are also non-comedogenic and have antibacterial activity, so they are great to use if you have oily or acne-prone skin. Additionally, physical sunscreens provide protection immediately upon application and have a longer shelf life. However, as physical protectants, when you sweat, they can rub off easily. As a result, they must be reapplied frequently. The biggest complaint about mineral sunscreens is they can be chalky and opaque and leave a white cast that is easily seen on darker skin tones. Fortunately, micronized formulations reduce the white cast on darker skin, and tinted versions made with iron oxides hide the white cast.
Creating The Best Mineral Sunscreen for Dark Skin - With No White Cast
When I decided to create a mineral sunscreen for dark skin, I knew it had to be:
broad spectrum to protect against both UVA and UVB light;
made with mineral zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to work with sensitive skin;
tinted and made with iron oxides to protect against blue light;
hydrating and made with hyaluronic acid;
nourishing and made with Vitamin C and green tea.
While some mineral sunscreens may leave a white cast on darker tones, our minerals are non-nano micronized versions that reflect less light, and when we add iron oxides to tint the formula, the colors blend beaitifully into skin.
Wearing sunscreen every day is the single most important thing you can do for skin health and I am happy to be able to offer a product that meets the recommended standards for UVA, UVB and visible light protection for the unique sunscreen needs of dark skin. And while there are many good sunscreen brands on the market, ours is designed for the unique needs of dark skin.
Here are some additional resources you may enjoy reading:
American Academy of Dermatology Sunsafe Recommendations
Blue Light and Darker Skin Tones
Photoprotection In Skin of Color
Skin Deep: Learning to Speak to Latino Complexions
We offer people with melanin rich skin effective products to optimize skin health and reduce signs of aging. Developed by physician-researcher, Anne Beal, MD, our mission is to create clean skin care -- based on science, not hype -- that nourishes and protects melanin rich skin for a healthy even complexion at any age.
Each product combines natural and clinically effective ingredients for healthy skin. We use NO parabens, phthalates, sulphates, or skin bleach. And we use no perfumes or dyes to offer pure and clean products good for all skin types, including sensitive skin.