Why You Should be Wearing a Tinted Sunscreen for your Melasma

Christopher Chu M.D.
March 12, 2024

Melasma is a pigmentary skin condition that affects over 1% of the population. In certain populations, particularly dark skin toned patients of reproductive age, this rate is even higher. As a dermatologist with a darker skin tone and pigmentary issues themselves, I know how important these concerns can be for someone of skin of color. In my clinic, melasma is one of the most common pigmentary conditions I see. Today, I’m going to briefly review melasma, go over the importance of using a broad-spectrum tinted sunscreen for melasma, and then provide some tips on picking one.

What is melasma and what causes it?

Melasma manifests with dark, irregular patches on the skin, and while the patches can be asymptomatic, melasma can cause significant emotional and social distress and self-esteem issues.

The exact causes of melasma are multifaceted, intertwining genetic predisposition, hormonal fluctuations, and environmental triggers. Sun exposure is the most important and common aggravator, and what people don’t know is that both UV and visible light (VL) can worsen melasma. Recent research has demonstrated that high-energy visible light (HEVL) especially can penetrate deeply into the skin, contributing to the condition's severity and persistence.


Typical treatments

Treatment for melasma typically involves a combination of topical agents, such as hydroquinone, tranexamic acid, and a variety of other topical agents such as kojic acid, niacinamide, azelaic acid, amongst others. Your dermatologist can guide you on how best to use these topical/oral options. Unfortunately, these treatments, while effective, are prone to frequent relapses. This is why it’s extra important to emphasize prevention with a good broad-spectrum sunscreen. This is when a discussion about tinted sunscreens is so important.


The Importance of Tinted Sunscreens, especially ones with Iron Oxides

While traditional sunscreens offer protection against UV rays, they fall short in protecting the skin from visible light (VL). Tinted sunscreens fill this gap with their iron oxide content, which effectively blocks VL, offering an added layer of defense. In one randomized controlled trial (RCT), researchers compared two broad-spectrum SPF50 sunscreens, one of which contained iron oxides and offered protection against high-energy visible light (HEVL). This study, involving 68 participants, showed that the group using the iron oxide-containing sunscreen experienced significant improvements in Melasma Area Severity Index (MASI) scores, colorimetric values, and melanin assessment, all objective measures of melasma severity. This is why it’s extra important to ensure that when you do pick a tinted sunscreen, pick a sunscreen with iron oxide. An added benefit to using tinted sunscreens is that it not only prevents melasma, but also offers cosmetic benefits by evening out skin tone!


Choosing the Right Tinted Sunscreen

When selecting a tinted sunscreen, it's crucial to consider broad-spectrum protection, the formulation's compatibility with your skin tone, and ensure it contains iron oxide. Additionally, I prefer sunscreens with physical blockers such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide (also known as mineral sunscreens). Mineral sunscreens have less potential for irritation to the skin. At Pure Dermatology, one of my favorite products is ISDIN’s Eryfotona Ageless. It’s lightweight, tinted with iron oxide, and a mineral sunscreen.


My favorite sunscreen for melasma patients. ISDIN's tinted mineral sunscreen.

Final Thoughts

Managing melasma demands not only treatment, but a proactive approach to prevention of recurrence. Tinted sunscreens are low-cost, effective method of prevention, that also offers cosmetic camouflage. By integrating tinted sunscreens into your daily skincare routines, individuals can achieve better management of their condition. Come see us at Pure Dermatology, where our board-certified dermatologist won’t just give you a cream and send you on your way. We will help you develop a full skincare regimen that will help you combat melasma long-term.