11 Best Sunscreens for People with Dark Skin Tones
Dermatologists share the best sunscreens for people with darker skin, including products that absorb easily and are free of white residue.
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How to find the right sunscreen
Melanin, which includes reddish and brown pigments naturally found in the skin, can provide some protection from the sun. This is why people with a naturally darker skin tone, like men and women of color, are less likely to get a sunburn. However, even if you have darker skin, it is still important to protect your skin and make sunscreen a part of your daily skin care routine. (This is why sunscreen in the winter is a must.)
“Photoaging, wrinkles, melasma, (brown to gray-brown patches, usually on the face), post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, and skin cancer can still occur in Asian, Black and Latina women (and men) and be caused by or exacerbated by UV (ultraviolet) exposure,” says Naissan O. Wesley, MD, a dermatologist in Los Angeles.
In fact, the effects can be seen quickly. “Under the microscope, sun damage can occur within seconds, and to the naked eye, burning can be seen within 15 minutes,” says board-certified dermatologist, Jessie Cheung, MD, of Cheung Aesthetics and Wellness in Chicago.
Unfortunately, beautiful, olive skin can look a little chalky after the application of sunscreen. However, after many years of people hoping for fast-absorbing products, an array of beauty brands now exist that offer sunscreens that can blend in well with your skin tone and offer a high enough SPF—30 or more. Here are some of our experts’ top picks for fast-absorbing sunscreen products for men and women with dark skin tones.
Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen SPF 40
Supergoop’s Unseen Sunscreen goes on light and silky with zero residue to be found. This oil and scent-free formula is a good option for those who tend to have sensitive or acne-prone skin. Created with ingredients such as protein-rich red algae, it not only protects you from UVA (ultraviolet A) and UVB (ultraviolet B) rays but also from the blue light emitted from your smart devices. Thanks to hydrating meadowfoam, it makes an excellent primer to add before makeup, and when used alone, you’ll see a dewy finish. (Here are 10 face sunscreens you won’t mind wearing.)
Arbonne Intelligence Pollution Defense CC Cream Broad Spectrum SPF 30
A favorite of Dr. Wesley, who prefers to use products with a minimum of active ingredients, this formula contains physical blocking agents (minerals), like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. “Some women of color have a history of sensitive skin (eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis), and so for this reason, the physical sunscreens are typically less irritating for more sensitive skin,” says Dr. Wesley.
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, physical sunscreens deflect rays before they penetrate your skin. In contrast, chemical sunscreens (avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene, homosalate, and octisalate) work as a sponge and absorb UV rays before they can cause skin damage. And while she points out that it can be difficult to find physical sunscreens that blend well with olive skin tones, Arbonne is a CC cream available in different shades. (This is the best sunscreen for every skin type.)
Aveeno Positively Mineral Sensitive Skin Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 50
“Though darker skin tones get the benefit, their skin melanin, offers an SPF equivalent to 4,” says Dr. Cheung. She cautions that you shouldn’t get too hung up on a sunscreen’s SPF rating since the ingredients are more important. Though some products may offer a high SPF, they could also have zero UVA protection. “You want broad-spectrum UVA and UVB protection, which is best offered by zinc oxide,” she says.
Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Face Mist Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 55
Though it is often said that you should apply sunscreen every two hours, there is a study that suggests that reapplication after only 20 minutes of sun exposure is better than every two hours, says Dr. Cheung. She cautions that though your moisturizer or makeup may promise sun protection, you shouldn’t rely on them as it can melt off during the day.
Luckily Neutrogena’s face mist goes on light and absorbs quickly, making for easy application throughout the day. “Just be careful not to inhale spray products or apply near heat, open flame, or around someone who is smoking,” says Dr. Wesley.
Noodle & Boo Play-Day Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30
A critical factor in choosing products for Dr. Wesley is their impact on the environment, such as marine life. Noodle & Boo Play-Day is reef-friendly while offering broad-spectrum SPF protection. It delivers antioxidants and shea butter to hydrate the skin without leaving behind a chalky white residue on your or your child’s face or body. It is hypoallergenic and fragrance-free to help offer protection without irritation. And can be used on kids six months and older. (Beware of the signs you bought the wrong sunscreen.)
Isdin Photo Eryfotona Ageless Ultralight Emulsion Broad Spectrum SPF 50
While Isdin has other ultra-light formulas, this one blends into more melanated skin while helping to repair your skin from photoaging brought on by the sun. “The DNA photolyase enzymes repair the accumulated UV damage to your DNA,” says Dr. Cheung. It is a 100 percent mineral sunscreen created with peptides and antioxidants that help fight the effects of environmental pollution on the skin. For best results, it should be applied 15 minutes before heading outdoors.
EltaMD Skincare UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46
A favorite of Dr. Cheung’s is EltaMD sunscreen, which is made for those prone to acne, rosacea, and hyperpigmentation. “It won’t irritate sensitive skin,” she says. It is oil free and fragrance free and includes ingredients like hyaluronic and lactic acid for moisture, niacinamide (a form of vitamin B3).
Niacinamide has been shown to help smooth the surface of the skin, and vitamin E has been linked to helping reduce the oxidative stress of people affected by premature aging due to UV rays. (These are the signs your skin products are bad for your skin.)
M-61 Hydraboost Moisturizer SPF 30
This product melts into darker complexion with a velvety effect. This is designed to be worn alone or under your makeup. It goes on without being sticky and dries down quickly while supplying the skin with vitamin B5, tamarind, and aloe, to help moisturize. It also contains mulberry, which may help to reduce the effects of melasma, according to a 2011 study in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology. (Melasma is a common skin problem where dark patches appear on the face or sun-exposed parts of the body.)
Theraderm Platinum Protection Facial Sunscreen SPF 43
This broad-spectrum sunscreen protects users from UV rays with a combination of chemical and physical agents—octinoxate, octisalate, and zinc oxide. The formula can work well for those with sensitive skin as it does not contain fragrance or artificial coloring. And though it is oil free, it melts into brown skin with ease without leaving a whitish cast and dries down to a matte finish.
Supergoop! Lipscreen SPF 40
It is essential to make your lips a part of your sunscreen regimen, which means always applying some before heading outdoors, even on cloudy days. (Find out what causes dry lips.) One cause of lip cancer is excessive sun exposure. While it is most commonly found on the lower lip, it also can occur on the upper lip. The majority of lip cancers are squamous cell carcinomas, which are more likely to spread than basal carcinoma, the most common form of skin cancer. Supergoop! Lipscreen glides on smoothly, making it a no brainer as it works well au naturel or under your favorite lip color. (Next, learn the difference between sunscreen and sunblock.)
Black Girl Sunscreen SPF 30
Made by women of color for those who have brown skin, Black Girl Sunscreen goes on clear and residue free. The lightweight formula is made with moisturizing avocado, jojoba, sunflower oils, and cocoa seed butter, which helps create a hydrated pallet for smooth under makeup application. In addition to the SPF 30 version for adults, this reef-friendly product also has an SPF 50 iteration designed with kids in mind.
- Naissan O. Wesley, MD, FACMS, a dermatologist in Los Angeles
- Jessie Cheung, MD, Cheung Aesthetics and Wellness in Chicago
- American Academy of Dermatology Association: "What is Melasma"
- AAD: "Skin Cancer in People of Color"
- Skin Cancer Foundation: "All About Sunscreen"
- AAD: "Dermatologists' Top Tips for Relieving Dry Skin"
- Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology: "Nicotinic acid/niacinamide and the skin"
- International Journal of Cosmetic Science: "Role of topical and nutritional supplement to modify the oxidative stress"
- Journal of Drugs in Dermatology: "A Comparative Study of the Safety and Efficacy of 75% Mulberry (Morus alba) Extract Oil Versus Placebo as a Topical Treatment for Melasma: A Randomized, Single-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial"
- SCF: "Ask the Expert: What Will Help Me Feel Less Nervous About My Lip Cancer?"