Hands down one of the most frustrating skin issues to treat, melasma (a patchy form of discoloration) can appear in many different ways, and at different times. Personally, I first discovered my melasma while getting a facial at a spa in my mid-20s. The aesthetician asked me if I was pregnant a few minutes into my treatment and I was flabbergasted. I was not pregnant, and I couldn’t believe she was asking me that, but my face was riddled with patchy hyperpigmentation, which is often called “the mask of pregnancy” because it’s frequently linked to dramatic hormonal shifts during pregnancy.
My patchiness was very diffused, and I was living in Florida at the time, so I had chalked it up to minor sun damage that I could cover with makeup, but I had never been “diagnosed” with melasma. And that was the start of my years-long battle with the stubborn form of hyperpigmentation, which seems to come and go depending on hormonal changes and exposure to heat and sun.
Affecting nearly 5 million people in the U.S. alone, melasma should be protected from the sun on a daily basis, and especially during times times of more sun exposure (like outdoor activities, beach days, etc), and dermatologists recommend physical, or mineral, sunscreen formulas versus chemical. How come? Find out below, and see the top products doctors prefer.
“Sunscreen should be a part of everyone’s daily skin-care routine, especially for those with melasma. When choosing a sunscreen, you should look for broad-spectrum—at least SPF 30 or greater—and mineral-based, meaning it contains either zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. Apply it every morning, at least 15 minutes before going outside and at least every two hours while outside.
A few of our every day favorites are the following:
1.) EltaMD UV Restore Broad Spectrum SPF 40 Facial Sunscreen ($36.50), which comes in both a tinted and untinted forms. This is a mineral sunscreen that contains both zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to protect skin from UV rays. This also has antioxidants to further protect skin from environmental free radicals. It is oil-free, fragrance-free and noncomedogenic, which is great for any skin type, even those with sensitive and acne-prone skin.
2.) Revision Skincare Intellishade TruPhysical Broad Spectrum 45 ($76): This is also a mineral-based tinted daily facial sunscreen containing both zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. It also contains antioxidants and vitamin C for skin protection from the environment and to help with skin tone. For a mineral sunscreen, it feels lightweight and rubs in well on the skin.
3.) ISDIN Mineral Brush ($55): This is meant to be used in addition to, not to replace, your daily facial sunscreen. This is a mineral power containing both zinc oxide and titanium dioxide that can be applied throughout the day as needed on top of sunscreen and makeup. It comes in a small, easy-to-use travel-size with a brush-on applicator.”
—Charlotte, NC dermatologist Gilly S. Munavalli, MD and Rachel Yang, nurse practitioner
“I like the Avène Haute Protection Mineral Tinted Compact SPF 50 ($36). It is hypoallergenic, has the physical blocks needed—titanium dioxide and zinc oxide—and it covers your skin beautifully! What more can a melasma patient ask for? It protects and covers!”
—Miami dermatologist Dr. Deborah Longwill
“A physical sunscreen formula is what I recommend for combatting melasma, over chemical sunscreens. Physical sunscreens consist of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which are active ingredients that sit on top of the skin and deflect ultraviolet light, infrared radiation and visible light that cause melasma. My Z Hydrating Tint SPF 44 ($44) is a tinted sunscreen and moisturizer all in one. Another one of my go-to physical sunscreens is the EltaMD UV Clear SPF 46 ($37). Most importantly, you have to find a sunscreen you love so you will wear it every day, even if you aren’t going outside. The rays that cause pigmentation and melasma even come through our home windows.”
—Baton Rouge, LA dermatologist Ann C. Zedlitz, MD
“I have a few favorites:
1.) Colorescience Sunforgettable Total Protection Brush-On Shield SPF 50 contains iron oxides, which are effective for preventing the worsening of melasma. Also, reapplication throughout the day is easy with this formulation, which is even more critical if you have melasma or hyperpigmentation. It comes in four shades and can even be applied on top of makeup.
2.) Neova DNA Damage Control Silc Sheer 2.0 SPF 40 is a great one for patients with melasma because it has multiple active ingredients. It’s hydrating and helps to cover flaws if you are dealing with pigment. It also has plankton extract in it, which helps repair sun damage, as well as citric acid, which helps with skin cell renewal to reduce the appearance of age spots, wrinkles and an uneven skin tone.
3.) Vichy Capital Soleil Tinted Mineral Sunscreen for Face SPF 60: It’s tinted, so it is great if you have melasma to help cover while protecting your skin. It is also a 100-percent mineral sunscreen with titanium dioxide. I like this one because it is nongreasy, fragrance-free, paraben-free, and noncomedogenic, which is important for my patients who are also acne-prone.”
—Dallas dermatologist Elizabeth Bahar Houshmand, MD
“skinbetter science sunbetter Tone Smart Advanced Mineral Protection SPF 75 is a 100-percent mineral, non-nano sunscreen with no shaking required. It uses patented technology to provide an extraordinary level of sun protection against UVA (aging) and UVB (burning) rays, as well as protection beyond UV, including blue light, pollution and infrared radiation. It’s also water-resistant for 80 minutes.”
—Monroe, LA dermatologist Janine Hopkins, MD
“Strict sun protection for patients with melasma is an essential component of treatment and for preventing relapses. I recommend mineral-based sunscreens that are tinted to block ultraviolet light and visible light, and newer formulations have been developed for all skin types and complexions. Three I like are skinbetter science Sunbetter Advanced Mineral Protection Tone Smart SPF 75 (titanium dioxide and zinc oxide) ($75); ISDIN Photo Eryfotona Ageless Ultralight Emulsion SPF 50 (zinc oxide ($66)); and ISDIN Isdinceutics Mineral Brush On the Go Facial Powder 50 (titanium dioxide and zinc oxide) ($55).”
—Glenn Dale, MD dermatologist Valerie D. Callender, MD
“For melasma, I like mineral sunblocks rather than chemical sunscreens: Imagine putting on a raincoat that blocks everything compared to a sponge trying to absorb stuff, to compare the two. My favorites include Neutrogena Sheer Zinc SPF 50 ($13) and Alastin HydraTint Pro Mineral SPF 36 ($55). I am not a fan of mixing sunscreen into moisturizer as it ‘dumbs down’ both formulas and most people don’t need sun protection to walk the dog or go to their car at 8 a.m.”
—West Palm Beach, FL dermatologist Kenneth R. Beer, MD
“There are so many elegant and effective sunscreens out on the market, such that I often tell my patients that my favorite for them is the one they will use every single day. However, I do have a few personal favorites, and I am lately leaning more and more toward physical sunscreens for myself as I get older and because I also suffer from melasma. Plus, physical sunscreens may be more effective for pigmentary disorders like melasma because they can also block indoor lighting. Although chemical and physical sunscreens are equally effective in protecting against UV damage and the sun, physical sunscreens containing zinc oxide, titanium dioxide and iron oxide tend to be better tolerated by sensitive skin in my experience and can also protect against indoor lighting, a significant trigger in melasma.
My top three lately are ISDIN Eryfotona Actinica SPF 50+, skinbetter science Sunbetter Sheer SPF 70 Sunscreen Lotion ($75), and Colorescience Sunforgettable Total Protection Face Shield Classic SPF 50 ($39). As you can see, each is broad-spectrum and has an SPF greater than 45, which is the level I always recommend. However, as importantly, each is also very elegant even under makeup and has a tinted version for those who want a little color. An elegant effective sunscreen will improve compliance and everyday use, which are essential to any skin-care regimen. Who wants a sunscreen that balls up, feels like a layer of plastic on the skin, or makes you look like a ghost? It will for sure end up sitting idly unused on the bathroom countertop! Finally let’s not forget that protective eyewear, hats and UPF clothing are fantastic and should be a priority for anyone wanting more sun protection, but are especially important for those suffering from melasma.”
—Bloomfield Hills, MI dermatologist Linda C. Honet, MD
“I love the EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46 Sunscreen ($37). It is a perfect daily-wear sunscreen, as it goes on with a very sheer quality and doesn’t cause acne. In fact, there are benefits of it for acne-prone individuals. As a dermatologist, the thing I would love every person to know is that when it comes to melasma, the most important thing is to be protected all the time. There is no substitute for having a sunscreen on at the right time and no do-overs if you are caught outside in the heavy sun when you aren’t expecting it. That’s why it pays to wear this sunscreen every day, even in winter!
Our newest and most exciting option for those who have experienced melasma already is the SkinCeuticals Daily Brightening UV Defense Sunscreen SPF 30 ($54). It contains tranexamic acid to brighten, as well as 7-percent glycerin to hydrate. Additionally, it has mica for reflection properties. And, of course, it offers broad-spectrum UVA and UVB protection!”
—Omaha, NE dermatologist Joel Schlessinger, MD
“In reality, any sunscreen that someone uses will be one of the most important steps someone can take for their melasma, but my go-to is a physical sunscreen. Some of my favorites are ISDIN Eryfotona Actinica ($55), Alastin HydraTint ($55) and skinbetter science Tone Smart ($75).”
—Fort Lauderdale, FL dermatologist Dr. Matthew Elias
“Melasma needs zinc, titanium or iron oxide in front of UV, but also evening laptop blue light—studies have shown that iron oxide (very similar to other oxides) helps prevent and improve melasma patients exposed to blue light. My favorites are the mineral sunscreens from EltaMD UV Elements Broad-Spectrum SPF 44 ($36.50)and SkinMedica Essential Defense Mineral Shield SPF 35 ($38).”
—New York dermatologist Orit Markowitz, MD
“My favorite sunscreen for people with melasma is really any one that they will routinely use and feel comfortable using that has at least an SPF 30. I tend to like the chemical-free mineral sunscreens, and my go-to is the Alastin HydraTint Pro Mineral Broad-Spectrum SPF 36 ($55). It’s a great one because it has a little bit of makeup-like coverage, but still gets the job done as a sunscreen.”
—Delray Beach, FL dermatologist Dr. Janet Allenby
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