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Top Dermatologists Say These Are the 25 Best Sunscreens for Melasma

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Top Dermatologists Say These Are the 25 Best Sunscreens for Melasma featured image

If you ask a dermatologist what the most frustrating skin concerns to treat are, melasma, which is a form of hyperpigmentation that shows up as pesky brown patches, will almost always make the list. During an interview with one of the country’s leading derms, I asked her, if you could invent any device in the field of dermatology right now, what would it be, and she replied, “a magic wand to get rid of melasma.” The discoloration, which affects nearly 5 million people in the U.S. alone, typically shows up in women and worsens with certain hormonal fluctuations, but two other big triggers are exposure to heat and sun.

That’s where the importance of sunscreen comes into play. 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 looked like I had dirt on my face—and I couldn’t go anywhere without lots of foundation and concealer. I wanted so badly to let my skin breathe and I admired other beauty editors’ glowing complexions, but it wasn’t in the cards for me then. It was during these years that I also discovered the power of a really good mineral (physical) sunscreen, and learned that chemical SPFs aren’t ideal for those with this type of hyperpigmentation. Here’s why, as well as the top mineral sunscreens dermatologists regularly recommend.

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Supergoop! Mineral Sheer Screen ($38), SkinCeuticals Physical Fusion ($36) and ISDIN Eryfotona Actinica ($60)

“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 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 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. 

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. Supergoop! Mineral Sheer Screen is a zinc oxide sunscreen that delivers broad-spectrum SPF 30 and helps filter blue light. And lastly, ISDIN Eryfotona Actinica, which is an SPF 50+ targeted for actinic damage, but I also recommend it for my melasma patients since 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.” —New York dermatologist Julie Russak, MD

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Colorescience SunForgettable Total Protection Face Shield Flex SPF 50 ($45)

“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

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Avène Solaire UV Mineral-Multi Defense Sunscreen SPF 50+, ($34) La Roche-Posay Anthelios Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50 ($35) and LASPA Naturals SPF 20 Tinted Matte Sunscreen ($35)

“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 Avène and La Roche-Posay help block visible light. LASPA is great too and comes in many shades for darker Fitzpatrick phototype skin types 4 and 5.” —Toronto dermatologist Sandy Skotnicki, MD

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ISDIN Eryfotona Actinica, Doris Day MD Vitamin E-Ssential Sunscreen ($48), Green Tea Mattifying Mineral Powder Brush ($65), and Blue Lizard Mineral Sunscreen ($16)

“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

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Supergoop! Daily Dose Vitamin C + SPF 40 Serum ($46) and Colorescience Sunforgettable Total Protection Brush-On Shield SPF 50 ($69) 

“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.

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.” —Toronto dermatologist Geeta Yadav, MD

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ISDIN Eryfotona Actinica ($60) and skinbetter science sunbetter SPF 56 ($55)

“For melasma, I always recommend mineral sunscreen that’s water-resistant. My favorites are ISDIN Eryfotona Actinica, a shake lotion, and skinbetter’s sunstick. Both rub in quickly with a silky feel, and I have patients layer them with the Eryfotona on their full face and the sunstick over that in the areas of melasma. Patients can easily apply makeup over that.” —Nanuet, NY dermatologist Heidi Waldorf, MD

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EltaMD UV Clear SPF 46 ($39)

“I love EltaMD SPF 46 Clear because it’s very soothing and natural with a heavy zinc content.” —Chico, CA dermatologist Kafele Hodari, MD

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ISDIN Isdinceutics Mineral Brush On the Go Facial Powder 50 ($55), skinbetter science sunbetter Advanced Mineral Protection Tone Smart SPF 75 ($75) and ISDIN Photo Eryfotona Ageless Ultralight Emulsion SPF 50 ($66) 

“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 Tone Smart SPF 75 (titanium dioxide and zinc oxide); ISDIN Photo Eryfotona Ageless (zinc oxide); and ISDIN Isdinceutics Mineral Brush (titanium dioxide and zinc oxide).” —Glenn Dale, MD dermatologist Valerie D. Callender, MD

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Alastin HydraTint Pro Mineral SPF 36 ($55) and Neutrogena Sheer Zinc SPF 50 ($13) 

“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 and 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

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skinbetter science Sunbetter Sheer SPF 70 Sunscreen Lotion ($75), Colorescience Sunforgettable Total Protection Face Shield Classic SPF 50 ($39) and ISDIN Eryfotona Actinica SPF 50+ ($60)

“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. 

These are my top three lately. 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

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EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46 Sunscreen ($37) and SkinCeuticals Daily Brightening UV Defense Sunscreen SPF 30 ($54)

“I love the EltaMD UV Clear ($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!

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!” —Omaha, NE dermatologist Joel Schlessinger, MD

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Alastin HydraTint ($55), skinbetter science Tone Smart ($75) and ISDIN Eryfotona Actinica ($60)

“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, Alastin HydraTint and skinbetter science Tone Smart.” —Fort Lauderdale, FL dermatologist Dr. Matthew Elias

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EltaMD UV Elements Broad-Spectrum SPF 44 ($36.50) and SkinMedica Essential Defense Mineral Shield SPF 35 ($38)

“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 and SkinMedica Essential Defense.” —New York dermatologist Orit Markowitz, MD

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Alastin HydraTint Pro Mineral Broad-Spectrum SPF 36 ($55)

“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

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