One of the most frustrating skin issues, melasma is a patchy form of discoloration that can appear in different places and at different times. Affecting nearly 5 million people in the U.S., it typically shows up in women and worsens with certain hormonal fluctuations (it used to be referred to more commonly as “the mask of pregnancy”), but two other big triggers are exposure to heat and sun.
If you have melasma, sunscreen is critical. I know this all to well: In my mid-20s I lived in South Florida and my melasma was the worst its ever been—it literally looked like I had dirt all over my face—and I couldn’t go out without a thick layer of foundation and concealer. I wanted so badly to let my skin breathe and I admired my friends’ glowing complexions, but that just wasn’t in the cards for me then.
It was during these years that I also discovered the power of a really good mineral (aka physical) sunscreen, and learned that chemical SPFs aren’t ideal for those with this type of hyperpigmentation. These are the reasons why, as well as the top 35 sunscreens—from lotions to sticks and everything in between—that dermatologists regularly recommend to their patients with melasma.
EltaMD UV Clear SPF 46 ($41)
“I love EltaMD SPF 46 Clear because it’s very soothing and natural with a heavy zinc content.” —Chico, CA dermatologist Kafele Hodari, MD
“I love the EltaMD UV Clear. 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!” —Omaha, NE dermatologist Joel Schlessinger, MD
skinbetter science sunbetter Advanced Mineral Protection Tone Smart SPF 75 ($75)
“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. One of my favorites is skinbetter science Tone Smart.” —Fort Lauderdale, FL dermatologist Dr. Matthew Elias
“This 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. One I like is skinbetter science sunbetter Tone Smart SPF 75 (titanium dioxide and zinc oxide).” —Glenn Dale, MD dermatologist Valerie D. Callender, MD
Alastin HydraTint Pro Mineral Sunscreen SPF 36 ($64)
“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 favorite is Alastin HydraTint. 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
“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. 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
ISDIN Photo Eryfotona Ageless Ultralight Emulsion SPF 50 ($70)
“Sun protection is arguably the single most important part of melasma care. This type of pigmentation is very multifactorial, but ultraviolet light, heat and even visible light can contribute to flares. I saw an uptick when people were working from home because they assumed being inside meant no need for photo-protection, but turns out your overhead lights, blue light from computer screens/devices, and UVA rays that come through window glass can really pack a punch.
I like broad-spectrum mineral-based sunscreens with a tint. The tinted color results from iron oxide, which has been shown to block visible light, another culprit in the worsening of melasma. One of my favorites is ISDIN Ageless.” —Campbell, CA dermatologist Amelia K. Hausauer, MD
“This is one of my all-time favorite sunscreens because the sunscreen is lightweight, blends easily and patented DNA repairsomes help repair past sun damage. In addition, Ageless contains iron oxides, which are an ingredient known to be helpful in protecting skin prone to hyperpigmentation from the effects of visible light.” —Chicago dermatologist Caroline Robinson, MD
Colorescience SunForgettable Total Protection Face Shield Flex SPF 50 ($49)
“This is a lightweight, broad-spectrum mineral sunscreen that uses 12-percent zinc oxide, iron oxide, antioxidants and a patented Enviroscreen technology to protect against UVA/UVB, blue light, pollution and infrared radiation, making it especially good for those with melasma. It is available in four different shades, making it easy to blend with your skin for natural coverage, and uses iron oxide pigments to adapt to your specific tone. It does this without leaving the skin feeling greasy, making it good for all skin types.” —New York dermatologist Marisa K. Garshick, MD
“If you suffer from melasma, it’s so important that you are using sunscreens that contain physical blocking agents, which reflect the sun. This means that the sun never even has a chance to stimulate melanin production or hyperpigmentation. Specifically when choosing a mineral-based sunscreen for melasma, look for ones with iron oxides. Studies have shown that protection against melasma is enhanced when iron oxides are combined with zinc oxide and titanium oxide compared to those sunscreens that do not contain iron oxides.
My favorite sunscreen for melasma is Colorescience SunForgettable Total Protection Face Shield Flex SPF 50. Not only are there several different color options to match almost all skin types, but it also contains a specific type of technology that protects the skin from UVA/UVB, blue light, pollution and infrared radiation. Those who suffer from melasma are particularly prone to flaring from blue light.” —Pittsburgh dermatologist Lindsey Zubritsky, MD
Revision Skincare Intellishade Original ($80)
“Sun protection is the most important component of any treatment for melasma. Because of this, it is important to find sun protection that is not only effective, but also one that you like to use every day, even on cloudy days!
I love Revision Intellishade Original because it is SPF 45, blends in to most skin types, and can replace your makeup—it leaves the skin glowy and even.” —Houston dermatologist Jennifer Segal, MD
Avène High Protection Tinted Compact SPF 50 ($38)
“I like this one because 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
“The Avène SPF 50 mineral-based compact is absolutely essential and has been a particular favorite of mine for years. It is a cosmetically elegant, non-irritating sunblock with superb coverage and easy to reapply throughout the day.” —Dr. Segal
SkinMedica Essential Defense Mineral Shield SPF 35 ($40)
“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 favorite is SkinMedica Essential Defense.” —New York dermatologist Orit Markowitz, MD
Supergoop! Mineral Sheerscreen SPF 30 ($38)
“Melasma is a very multifactorial, not only UVA and UVC, also UVB, infrared radiation, heat, inflammation and hormones. Therefore you want a sunscreen that protects you from all of these factors.
I also prefer sunscreens that contain blue light blockers, because in addition to UV radiation, sitting in front of the computer all day being exposed to blue light can also exacerbate melasma. Supergoop! Mineral Sheer Screen is a zinc oxide sunscreen that delivers broad-spectrum SPF 30 and helps filter blue light.” —New York dermatologist Julie Russak, MD
Sun Bum Daily Mineral Moisturizer SPF 30 ($22)
“Because melasma is triggered by heat and UV rays, you’ll want to opt for a mineral SPF that physically blocks UV rays. I love Sun Bum’s Daily Mineral Moisturizer SPF 30 because it provides both SPF and skin-care benefits, and doesn’t leave a white cast on the skin.” —Dr. Zubritsky
Tower 28 SunnyDays SPF 30 ($32)
“This is a tinted foundation that is a rich, dewy formula, comes in multiple shades and can provide coverage of uneven skin for those with melasma or other conditions of hyperpigmentation.” —Dr. Robinson
SkinCeuticals Physical Fusion UV Defense Sunscreen SPF 50 ($36)
“I recommend only physical sunscreens for my melasma patients. Chemical sunscreens help stop the effects of the sun by absorbing the UV rays chemically, and some chemical degradation products from sunscreen can be inflammatory, which can trigger melasma.
I like SkinCeuticals Physical Fusion, an all-mineral SPF 50 sunscreen that not only contains zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to block UV rays, but also iron oxide, which is powerful in protecting against blue light. It also has a nice lightweight, universal tint.” —Dr. Russak
“This SPF contains an ingredient derived from plankton that helps protect skin from both UV and heat induced stress, which is important because melasma can be triggered by heat, as well as UV. As a physical sunscreen, Physical Fusion provides broad-spectrum protection and includes iron oxides to protect from blue light.” —Dallas dermatologist Rebecca Marcus, MD
Vichy Capital Soleil Tinted Mineral Sunscreen for Face SPF 60 ($35)
“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
EltaMD UV Daily SPF 40 ($36)
“All sunscreens should have an SPF of 30 or higher, be broad-spectrum (UVA and UVB) and be non-irritating, as irritation and the resulting redness can worsen melasma.
EltaMD Daily (tinted or non-tinted) is my go-to as well because it’s effective, non-irritating and nice to use.” —Dr. Segal
Cetaphil Sheer Mineral SPF 50 Stick ($8.50)
“This is a 100-percent mineral, microbiome-gentle formula with antioxidant vitamin E formulated to be gentle enough for even the most sensitive skin.” —Dr. Robinson
ISDIN Eryfotona Actinica ($60)
“ISDIN Eryfotona Actinica is an SPF 50+ targeted for actinic damage, but I also recommend it for my melasma patients because it contains repair enzymes that help repair damage caused by the sun. We know that melasma is exacerbated by the sun, so this product helps protect and repair at the same time.” —Dr. Russak
“Ideally, those with melasma should use a physical sunscreen with zinc oxide, titanium dioxide and iron oxides for the broadest-spectrum protection from UV light, blue light and visible light. ISDIN Eryforotona Actinica contains DNA repairsomes, which are enzymes that repair past sun damage when exposed to UV radiation. Not only is this sunscreen able to repair damage, but it is also a mineral sunscreen, which provides the broadest-spectrum protection from UV and visible light.” —Dr. Marcus
SkinMedica Total Defense + Repair SPF 34 ($70)
“This is my favorite sunscreen for melasma because it gives broad-spectrum coverage against UVA, UVB and also infrared. It is also cosmetically elegant, which makes it easier to use on a daily basis.” —Greenwich, CT dermatologist Lynne Haven, MD
Colorescience Even Up Clinical Pigment Perfector SPF 50 ($155)
“For patients with melasma, I love this chemical-free Colorescience sunscreen. It treats, hides and prevents melasma simultaneously.” —Fresno, CA dermatologist Kathleen Behr, MD
MDSolarSciences Solar Stick SPF 40 ($22)
“This is a lightweight and easy-to-apply sheer, tinted mineral stick that I love for reapplication. It dries matte, so it’s great for oilier skin types, but also other skin types as well. The iron oxides in this formula may be helpful for those prone to dark spots by providing added visible light protection.” —Dr. Robinson
La Roche-Posay Anthelios Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50 ($37)
“I like physical sunscreens because with melasma, you need to use a sunscreen daily to help treat and prevent it. Also, there is some evidence that visible light—not just UV light—can cause melasma, therefore physical blocking of the skin with mineral-based zinc and titanium sunscreens like this one from La Roche-Posay help block visible light.” —Toronto dermatologist Sandy Skotnicki, MD
ISDIN Isdinceutics Mineral Brush On the Go Facial Powder 50 ($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
Neova DNA Damage Control Silc Sheer 2.0 SPF 40 ($56)
“This 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.” —Dr. Houshmand
Revision Skincare Intellishade TruPhysical SPF 45 ($80)
“This is all-in-one mineral sunscreen and moisturizer is a great option for daily use. It contains antioxidants to help fight free-radical damage and protect the skin from other environmental stressors. It simultaneously brightens and hydrates, and also contains iron oxides, which can help to provide added protection against blue light, making it a great option for those with melasma.” —Dr. Garshick
“This is 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.” —Dr. Munavalli
skinbetter science sunbetter SHEER SPF 56 Sunscreen Stick ($55)
“For melasma, I always recommend mineral sunscreen that’s water-resistant. I have patients layer it over liquid sunscreen lotion in the areas of melasma. Patients can easily apply makeup over that.” —Nanuet, NY dermatologist Heidi Waldorf, MD
Supergoop! Daily Dose Vitamin C + SPF 40 Serum ($46)
“Though there is still some mystery around melasma, we do know that exposure to UV plays a large role in its formation. That makes sunscreen use critical. This SPF product features vitamin C, one of the best ingredients for improving the appearance of hyperpigmentation, including melasma.
Vitamin C and SPF in tandem is clinically proven to heighten your sun protection. Considering that vitamin C is a tyrosinase inhibitor—meaning that it helps reduce your melanocytes’ ability to create the excess pigment that results in melasma—this product could be seen as a one-two punch against discoloration.” —Toronto dermatologist Geeta Yadav, MD
skinbetter science Sunbetter Sheer SPF 70 Sunscreen Lotion ($75)
“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. 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.
This sunscreen is broad-spectrum and has an SPF greater than 45, which is the level I always recommend. 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
SkinCeuticals Daily Brightening UV Defense Sunscreen SPF 30 ($60)
“Another great option for those who have experienced melasma already is the SkinCeuticals Daily Brightening UV Defense Sunscreen SPF 30. 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!” —Dr. Schlessinger
Doris Day MD Vitamin E-Ssential Sunscreen ($48)
“For my patients with melasma, I recommend using a mineral, physical sunscreen like these four of my favorites rather than one that is absorbed into the skin. My goal is for the UV rays to be reflected off the skin before they can reach the pigment forming cells, aka melanocytes. It is also best to have broad-spectrum protection, even against blue light and some wavelengths of infrared light, which can also exacerbate melasma. I have my patients use a vitamin C serum under their sunscreen, too, for added antioxidant protection, and I make sure they know to reapply the sunscreen several times a day.” —New York dermatologist Doris Day, MD
Colorescience Sunforgettable Total Protection Brush-On Shield SPF 50 ($69)
“Sunscreen is only effective if you reapply every two hours — and how many people can say with a straight face that they reapply? A powder sunscreen like this one makes SPF touch-ups really easy, even if you’re already wearing makeup. Beyond having a tinted formula that can help blur the look of melasma, Colorescience’s powder sunscreen protects against blue light, UVA/UVB, and infrared—knowing there’s a heat component in melasma formation, that infrared defense is a serious bonus.” —Dr. Yadav
“It 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.” —Dr. Houshmand
Z Hydrating Tint SPF 44 ($44)
“A physical sunscreen formula is what I recommend for combatting melasma, over chemical sunscreens. Physical sunscreens consist of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which are active ingredients that sit on top of the skin and deflect ultraviolet light, infrared radiation and visible light that cause melasma.
My Hydrating Tint SPF 44 is a tinted sunscreen and moisturizer all in one. Most importantly, you have to find a sunscreen you love so you will wear it every day, even if you aren’t going outside. The rays that cause pigmentation and melasma even come through our home windows.” —Baton Rouge, LA dermatologist Ann C. Zedlitz, MD
MMSkincare Sheer Clear SPF 50 ($)
“This is mineral-based, lightweight and perfect for everyday use. The ingredients are gentle and safe for sensitive skin. Ingredients such as niacinamide help to visibly brighten and reduce the appearance of discoloration, such as melasma, as well as blemishes and uneven skin tone. Lactic and hyaluronic acids are gentle and keep skin hydrated and calm and promote a more even tone. And of course, your skin is protected with SPF 50.” —New York dermatologist Ellen Marmur, MD
EltaMD UV Restore Broad Spectrum SPF 40 Facial Sunscreen ($42)
“This 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.” —Dr. Munavalli