Dermatologists of color break down their favorite picks.
The warmer months are here to stay, which means you should be doing everything you can to protect your skin from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays—yes, regardless of your skin tone! We often assume that only super-fair people need to slather on sunscreen to prevent sun damage, but that’s simply not true.
And yet, in one survey from the Skin Cancer Foundation, 63 percent of African Americans said they never used sunscreen—and that can result in scary consequences. “Everyone can get skin cancer,” says board-certified dermatologist Heather Woolery-Lloyd, MD, director of ethnic skin care for the University of Miami Department of Dermatology and Cutaneous Surgery. “But what’s even more relevant to darker skinned people is hyperpigmentation.”
People with darker skin have highly reactive melanocytes (aka the cells that produce melanin, which makes your skin tone darker). That means something as simple as a bug bite, pimple, or excessive sun exposure, for example, can turn on those melanocytes and set pigment production into overdrive, leading to dark spots and uneven skin tone, says Dr. Woolery-Lloyd.
The problem: Any person that’s not white understands the struggle of finding a sunscreen that doesn’t leave behind that ashy, ghostly look. No matter how much your rub in, it never seems to absorb fully. But there are formulas out there that apply sheer or pretty close to it, you just need to know what to look for, says board-certified dermatologist Mona Gohara, MD, associate clinical professor of dermatology at the Yale School of Medicine. “The most import thing is look for a sunscreen that fits into your lifestyle,” she says.
Don’t skimp on SPF: Top-notch protection comes first, so look for a broad-spectrum formula that contains a minimum of SPF 30. That blocks out about 90 percent of harmful UVA and UVB rays, says Dr. Gohara.
Find a formula that works for you: There are two types of sunscreen. Physical or mineral sunscreens contain small particles that sit on top of the skin and reflect UV light (these are made with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which are reef-safe). Physical SPF is also less irritating to sensitive skin but has more potential to leave a white cast that needs to be rubbed in thoroughly, says Dr. Woolery-Lloyd. On the flip side, chemical sunscreens absorb and trap UV light, but look much more transparent. Both types effectively protect the skin, and the kind you choose will ultimately depend on what works best for your skin.
Work in sections: The way you apply your sunscreen can make a huge difference in its overall appearance. First, stick to a nickel-sized amount for your entire face, suggests Dr. Gohara. This should help prevent that painted-on look post-application. Then, work in sections rather than slathering it on your whole face all at once. Take your time rubbing in the SPF on your cheeks, then your forehead, and so on. This allows you to rub the product in completely before it sets and becomes more difficult to sheer out.
But even with these tips in mind, finding the best sunscreen for darker skin often comes down to trial and error. Luckily, the dermatologists of color we talked to shared their favorite picks. Here, ten sunscreens for melanin-rich skin that you’ll actually want to use every day.