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The ultimate guide to sunscreen for skin of color

What you need to know about the unique sun protection needs and concerns of melanin-rich skin.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Nov 10, 2023 • 7 min read
Medically reviewed by Kristen Jokela, NP-C
Woman Applying Sunscreen
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Nov 10, 2023 • 7 min read
Medically reviewed by Kristen Jokela, NP-C
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

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Sunscreen isn't just for beach days; it’s a daily essential for everyone, including those with skin of color. Historically, many sunscreens left an undesirable white cast, making it challenging for darker skin tones to find a suitable product. But luckily, the dermatology industry has caught up! 

Here we’ll take a look at the unique needs and concerns of melanin-rich skin and highlight the best sunscreens that offer sheer, weightless protection. Read on to discover the advice of Curology’s licensed dermatology providers on shielding your beautiful skin from the sun’s rays without compromising on aesthetics or efficacy.

Understanding dark skin and sun protection

There’s a common misconception that people with dark skin don’t need sun protection because they have a natural shield in the form of melanin, the pigment responsible for skin color. While it’s true that melanin offers some protection—evident in the fact that those with darker skin tend to develop sun-induced wrinkles later than their lighter-skinned counterparts—it’s not an impenetrable defense. 

Research has shed light on the vulnerabilities of skin of color to sun exposure. Despite the protective benefits of melanin, those with dark skin are not immune to the detrimental effects of the sun. They can still experience pigmentary disorderssigns of photoaging, and even conditions like basal cell carcinoma due to prolonged sun exposure.¹

While the importance of sun protection for fair-skinned individuals is frequently addressed, there isn’t much information and understanding about the photoprotection needs of those with skin of color. It’s essential to recognize and promote the significance of sun protection across all skin tones to ensure everyone understands the potential risks and benefits.

Selecting the right sunscreen

For those with more melanated skin, finding the perfect sunscreen presents a unique challenge. Surveys highlight common barriers to sunscreen usage among Asian/Pacific Islanders, Hispanics, and Black individuals, which include forgetting to apply it and disliking its greasy texture.² Moreover, certain sunscreens may leave a white residue, which can be especially noticeable on darker skin tones.

Recent concerns about the systemic absorption of certain sunscreens have prompted the U.S. FDA to classify titanium dioxide and zinc oxide as the only ingredients generally recognized as safe and effective (GRASE).³ So, if you’re keen on sticking to safety guidelines, mineral sunscreens with these ingredients are recommended.

The good news is that the cosmetic industry is becoming more mindful of the challenges faced by individuals with darker skin. This has led to the emergence of chemical sunscreens with organic filters. These sunscreens offer transparent formulations, addressing greasiness and white residue issues. But it’s essential to keep an eye on further research and ensure these sunscreens comply with FDA regulations for safety.⁴

Our top sunscreens for skin of color 

Selecting a suitable sunscreen for skin of color is crucial for sun protection and ensuring that the product blends seamlessly without leaving any undesirable white cast. 

Here are four sunscreens that we recommend:

1. MDSolarSciences Mineral Tinted Creme SPF 30

This dermatologist-recommended sunscreen offers a silky texture that easily blends into all skin tones, resulting in a smooth, matte finish. It contains potent antioxidants and skin-soothing agents like vitamin Cgreen tea, cranberry fruit, and pomegranate extract. It utilizes titanium dioxide and zinc oxide to protect the skin. The product is clinically proven, hypo-allergenic, and non-comedogenic. 

Besides guarding against UVA and UVB rays, it protects from blue light and environmental damage. This product can also serve as a primer under makeup or standalone as a tinted sunscreen

2. CoTZ Flawless Complexion SPF 50

This gentle, tinted cream provides broad-spectrum mineral sun protection using 20% zinc oxide, making it suitable for all skin types, including sensitive skin. The sheer tint is designed to seamlessly blend with most skin tones, leaving a moisturized and even finish. It is noncomedogenic, cruelty-free, and reef friendly.

3. Babo Botanicals Sheer Zinc SPF 30 Natural Continuous Spray

This handy, continuous air-powered spray is formulated especially for sensitive skin and utilizes natural-origin zinc oxide as its mineral filter. This lightweight lotion is designed for face and body application and uses compressed air instead of flammable propellants that are typical of many aerosols. 

Suitable for all ages and skin types, it offers broad-spectrum SPF 30 protection and is water-resistant for up to 80 minutes. Enhanced with moisturizing sunflower oil and composed of 13 plant-based ingredients, this fragrance-free sunscreen is dermatologist-tested, cruelty-free, and vegan. 

4. Cetaphil Pro Oil Dermacontrol Oil Control Moisturizer SPF 30

This product is a lotion designed for oily and combination skin. It offers hydration, shine control, and SPF 30 sun protection. The formula is lightweight, non-greasy, and absorbs quickly. It contains ceramides to replenish the skin’s moisture barrier and is free of fragrance and parabens. It’s also hypoallergenic and won’t clog pores. 

5. CeraVe AM Facial Moisturizing Lotion with Sunscreen

Developed with dermatologists, this SPF 30 lotion contains essential ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and niacinamide to restore the skin barrier, retain moisture, and soothe skin. The non-comedogenic, hypoallergenic, oil-free, and fragrance-free formula is designed for all-day hydration. 

Practical sun protection tips for skin of color 

Sun protection is crucial for preventing the harmful effects of ultraviolet radiation on your skin. Even though the dangers of sunburn, photoaging, and skin cancer in fair-skinned individuals are well-documented, the conversation around the importance of sun protection for individuals with skin of color is often overlooked.

There are a handful of other preventative measures beyond sunscreen: Seeking shade when the sun is at its peak, particularly between 10am and 2pm, can significantly reduce direct exposure. Wearing sun-protective clothing, such as long-sleeved shirts, wide-brimmed hats, and pants, can also protect against harmful UV rays. Additionally, sunglasses not only protect your eyes but also the delicate skin around them from the damaging effects of the sun.⁵

With all that said, sunscreen remains one of the primary defenses against sun damage; choosing a broad-spectrum formula and applying it generously and frequently is vital. 

Protect your skin and enjoy the sun with Curology

Sunscreen acts as a frontline defense against harmful UV rays, helping to prevent sunburn, photoaging, and even skin cancer. With this in mind, selecting a sunscreen that offers broad-spectrum protection is important. Curology, led by licensed dermatology providers, developed a sunscreen that ensures you can bask in the sun’s glow without worrying about damaging your skin. 

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

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There are no more trade-offs between enjoying a sunny day and protecting your skin. With Curology’s sunscreen, you get the best of both worlds. Discover the difference and make your sun days safer with Curology’s sunscreen.

FAQs

What is the best SPF for skin of color?

We recommend SPF 30 or higher for patients of all skin tones. While skin of color provides some natural protection, an SPF of at least 30 helps to ensure adequate protection against UV rays.

How much SPF do people with dark skin need?

Dark skin needs the same amount of SPF as any other skin type. It’s recommended to use SPF 30 or higher for sufficient protection against UVA and UVB rays, regardless of skin color.

Is Korean sunscreen good for dark skin?

Korean sunscreens can be suitable for darker skin, but choosing ones with broad-spectrum protection is key. Consider ones with tinted formulations to avoid a white cast on your skin.

Do people with skin of color really need to use sunscreen?

Yes, it's a misconception that people with darker skin don't need sun protection. While melanin does provide some natural shield, it's not sufficient to block all the harmful effects of sun exposure, such as pigmentary disorders, photoaging, and skin cancer. So, sunscreen is essential for everyone, irrespective of their skin tone.

What should I look for in a sunscreen if I have darker skin?

Choose sunscreens that address common issues like greasiness and white residue. The U.S. FDA recommends mineral sunscreens with titanium dioxide and zinc oxide as they are generally recognized as safe and effective. Recent innovations also offer chemical sunscreens with organic filters that are transparent and blend seamlessly with darker skin tones.

• • •

P.S. We did the homework, so you don’t have to:

  1. Tsai, J. and Chien, A.L. Photoprotection for Skin of Color. Am J Clin Dermatol. (2022, January 19).

  2. Tsai, J. and Chien, A.L. Photoprotection for Skin of Color. Am J Clin Dermatol. Ibid.

  3. Tsai, J. and Chien, A.L. Photoprotection for Skin of Color. Am J Clin Dermatol. Ibid.

  4. Tsai, J. and Chien, A.L. Photoprotection for Skin of Color. Am J Clin Dermatol. Ibid.

  5. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Sunscreen FAQs. (2023, October 19).

Kristen Jokela is a certified Family Nurse Practitioner at Curology. She obtained her Master of Science in Nursing at the University of South Florida in Tampa, FL.

*Cancel anytime. Subject to consultation. Results may vary.

*Sunscreen cannot prevent all harm from UV rays.

*PSA for your future skin: sunscreen alone cannot prevent all UV damage.

*Protect your future skin by wearing sunscreen and limiting direct sun exposure.

*Sun damage is still a risk even while wearing sunscreen.

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Our policy on product links:Empowering you with knowledge is our top priority. Our reviews of other brands’ products in this post are not paid endorsements—but they do meet our medically fact-checked standards for ingredients (at the time of publication).
Our thoughts on sun protection: *Sunscreen is only one part of UV protection—cute sun hats and shades are also recommended.
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Kristen Jokela, NP-C

Kristen Jokela, NP-C

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