Choosing the right sunscreen when you have melasma is an important decision as you will be using this product everyday. Although caused by hormone imbalances, exposure to sunlight can trigger or worsen visible melasma symptoms. Preventing the condition from getting worse requires constant and effective protection.
Treatments provided by dermatologists to fade melasma always require you to avoid exposure to the sun’s spectrum of damaging radiation – making the right sunscreen an integral part of any treatment plan.
Sunscreen is also a vital element of melasma management as areas that have faded with treatment will often return with continued exposure to the sun. This can be a burden as you’ll have to keep applying sunscreen everyday, but as a bonus, sunscreen has been proven to slow or temporarily prevent wrinkle development and skin sagging (Hughes, 2013)!
After thorough research into the causes, symptoms, and treatments of melasma, SimplySunSafe recommends BurnOut SPF 30 for Face & Body as the best sunscreen for melasma. Read on for a detailed buyer’s guide, comparison table, and in-depth reviews of the top 5 sunscreens for melasma.
Based on the causes, symptoms, and treatments of melasma, there are a number of must have factors in sunscreens for melasma:
Broad spectrum protection
There are two types of damaging UV radiation in the sun’s light – UVA and UVB. UVA exposure can increase the rate of photodermatitis and melanoma by affecting the DNA of deep skin cells. However, UVA doesn’t cause the pain or redness commonly associated with sunburn. This common symptom of overexposure to sunlight is caused by UVB radiation.
The entire range of sunlight including UVA, UVB, and visible light have the potential to stimulate pigment production in the skin (which can worsen melasma). For this reason, you should only be considering products with broad spectrum protection that offer as much protection as possible.
Best SPF for Melasma
Sun protection factor (SPF) is the most common rating system for sunscreen effectiveness. But its widespread use does not mean people understand it. You might know that a higher number is better, which is true, but this doesn’t help you much.
SPF is a confusing rating system that indicates the amount of time it would take you to burn based on how long you take to burn without sunscreen. If it takes you 10 minutes to burn naturally, an SPF sunscreen should prevent you burning for 15 times longer (150 minutes). If you have particularly photosensitive skin and burn in 5 minutes naturally, the same sunscreen will only delay burning for 75 minutes.
This might lead you to think that a high SPF sunscreen will protect you for hours on end, another reason why it’s so confusing. This isn’t the case because most sunscreens only last for 2 hours, especially when you account for water and sweat affecting your protection. This is why regular reapplication, wearing sun protective clothing, and seeking natural shade are an important part sun protection.
Just so you’ve got a full understanding of SPF, here are a couple of other important points:
- SPF concerns UVB radiation (the one that causes sunburn) and not UVA. To get an idea of UVA protection you have to check the active ingredients (more below).
- The ‘time’ indicated by an SPF rating can be misleading because sunlight intensity and application thickness also affect the calculation. This makes it almost impossible for you to know how long you’ll be protected for based on the SPF rating.
- The rating system makes it seem like SPF 30 offers twice the protection as SPF 15. This simply isn’t the case as you’ll see in the table below.
To get a clearer understanding of what SPF actually means to us, let’s just focus on the amount of UVB protection each SPF rating provides:
|SPF Rating||UVB Protection|
Looking at SPF this way provides us with some concrete information we can use to choose the best rating. The table shows that once you reach SPF 30, the protection doesn’t get much better. This is why the FDA caps SPF ratings at 50+, to stop marketers from using ridiculously high SPF ratings (100) to trick people into thinking the protection is three times better (when it’s actually only 2% more).
So what SPF should you use? Dermatologists recommend SPF 30 or more. No sunscreen is 100% effective and stopping 97% is great protection. If you’re particularly cautious because your skin is more photosensitive because of melasma, you may opt for SPF 50 but this only stops 1% more light reaching the skin. I agree with the dermatologists that SPF 30 is more than enough to protect you.
Physical rather than chemical
Physical sunscreens work by using active ingredients to reflecting sunlight. Chemical sunscreens use active ingredients to absorb the damaging UV light before it gets to your skin.
Physical sunscreens are recommended for melasma because they stop more visible light and UV radiation from reaching the skin. As mentioned above, even visible light has the ability to stimulate pigment production, so only physical sunscreens will be recommended here.
Physical sunscreens will usually be labeled as such, but if not, look for high levels of either of the two most common physical sunscreen active ingredients – zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.
Zinc oxide over titanium dioxide
Studies conducted since the early 2000s have shown that when it comes to physical sunscreens, zinc oxide is more effective than titanium dioxide. Both active ingredients provide sound protection, but zinc oxide offers better protection from more of the UVA spectrum.
Most of the sunscreens recommended here use zinc oxide for this reason. However, I have included one that uses titanium dioxide (La Roche-Posay Anthelios 50) as it is widely regarded as one of the best in the melasma community.
Avoid sunscreens that contain oxybenzone
A common ingredient in sunscreens called oxybenzone may disrupt hormones by acting like estrogen in the body (Rodriguez 2006, Krause 2012). As hormone imbalances are believed to contribute to melasma, sunscreens that contain this ingredient may well work against you as you try to avoid sunlight and fade the affected areas.
This chemical has also been linked to endometriosis in women, just another reason sunscreens that contain it will be left off the list of recommended products for melasma.
Suitable for the face and wearable with makeup
Melasma most commonly affects the face, spreading to other areas of the body only when they are exposed to excessive amounts of sunlight. That means the sunscreen you choose will most likely be exclusively applied to your face. For this reason all of the sunscreens featured here are gentle enough to used on sensitive face skin everyday.
You also don’t want your requirement to use sunscreen to affect your ability to wear makeup. As such, we’ve only included sunscreens that are compatible with the use of makeup. Although the product you choose will have specific instructions, a good rule of thumb is to apply the sunscreen about 20 minutes before makeup is applied to ensure it is effectively absorbed before you continue with your beauty routine.
Invisible (won’t be obvious when applied)
This sunscreen will be worn frequently and in the most visible place on your body. To make sure it won’t be obvious you’re wearing sunscreen, the products listed here are categorised as ‘invisible’. This means when applied properly and absorbed completely, they won’t whiten the skin or appear greasy. This also helps with the simultaneous use of makeup should you require it.
Best Sunscreen for Melasma Comparison
|BurnOut for Face & Body||La Roche-Posay Anthelios||DeVita Solar Protective Moisturizer||EltaMD UV Physical||Heliocare Ultra Gel|
|Active ingredient||Zinc Oxide (18.6%)||Titanium Dioxide (11%)||Zinc Oxide (14%)||Zinc Oxide (9%) & Titanium Dioxide (7%)||Zinc Oxide & Titanium Dioxide|
|Fragrance free||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No (light but inoffensive smell)|
5 Best Sunscreens for Melasma
After thorough research that combined discussing issues with customers, reviewing customer feedback, examining manufacturer specifications, participating in skincare forums, and reading medical journals SimplySunSafe has chosen the 5 best sunscreens for melasma. All of these sunscreens provide broad spectrum, physical protection of SPF 30 or greater, do not contain oxybenzone, are invisible, and are compatible with makeup products.
BurnOut SPF 30 for Face & Body ticks all the boxes to make it the best sunscreen for melasma. It is a physical sunscreen that offers broad spectrum protection to keep nasty UVA radiation away from your skin, uses zinc oxide as its active ingredient, avoids ingredients that have the potential to disrupt hormones, is suitable for daily use on the face (they even put that in the name), and has a matte finish to ensure it doesn’t leave a white cast.
When applied properly, even customers with darker skin tones come away very happy with the product’s invisible and matte look. It doesn’t lighten the skin tone when on and absorbs effectively so that makeup can be applied over the top without issue.
On top of all this, BurnOut SPF 30 for Face & Body is paraben, oil, nanoparticle, and fragrance free, and very reasonably priced considering its quality. All of these fantastic features combine to easily make BurnOut SPF 30 for Face & Body the best sunscreen for melasma.
Don’t confuse this product with another in the BurnOut range – Eco-sensitive Zinc Oxide Sunscreen SPF 35. When creating this Eco version, the recipe was changed to increase the product’s SPF to 35. Unfortunately this has resulted in a reduction in quality. Although it still offers great protection, this sunscreen is not suitable for use on the face as it feels and looks greasy when applied.
- High concentration of active ingredient
- Lightweight formula
- Matte finish makes it a great base for makeup
- Formula feels a little thick
La Roche-Posay Anthelios 50 Mineral Ultra-Light Tinted Sunscreen came in at a close second to BurnOut SPF 30 for Face & Body. It is an amazing product that is highly recommended by both dermatologists and users with melasma.
Anthelios 50 is a physical sunscreen with broad spectrum protection that uses titanium dioxide as its active ingredient. It doesn’t use hormone disruptors and is paraben and fragrance free. Anthelios 50 is suitable for daily use and has a matte finish that makes it perfect for use on the face and with makeup.
The texture of the sunscreen is amazing (very silky) and when applied does not leave a sticky or greasy feeling. It was formulated to be compatible with other cosmetics and works flawlessly under makeup. This version of Anthelios 50 is tinted to blend more effectively with your skin tone and make it less noticeable under makeup. Although it comes out the bottle quite dark, when absorbed completely the tint isn’t so dramatic that it looks out of place. The tint is designed more to give you a healthy glow.
This sunscreen is quite expensive, though its price is justified based on the fantastic feedback the product gets from its customers. If you want to mix and match you could use this sunscreen just on your face (so it lasts longer) and a more economical option for the rest of your body.
If you’re quite fair-skinned and worried about the tint, they do sell a version without the tint that still has all of the other amazing features.
These points make it sound perfect, so why isn’t it number one?
BurnOut SPF 30 for Face & Body edges Anthelios 50 out on one point. Research shows that zinc oxide is more effective across more of the UVA spectrum than titanium dioxide. UVA is a key contributor to the worsening of melasma pigmentation and this makes UVA protection incredibly important in these recommendations.
The top two are both amazing sunscreens so feel free to test both and come to your own conclusions.
- Lightly tinted
- High SPF
- Great texture and finish
- No zinc oxide
DeVita Solar Protective Moisturizer SPF 30+ is a physical, zinc oxide-based, broad spectrum sunscreen that’s full of natural ingredients. It is definitely paraben, nanoparticle, and fragrance free as DeVita takes great pride in using natural ingredients (no hormone disruptors) and making environmentally safe products. Just reading through the list of ingredients makes me feel healthier! It includes Japanese green tea extract, essential oils of lavender and chamomile, seaweed extract, and grape seed extract.
It feels great on the skin and is safe for everyday use on the face. As this is a more natural product, it’s texture is not as cosmetic as others listed. It still absorbs quickly and results in a matte finish, you just might have to work a little harder during application to get to that point.
This is the only product recommended that promotes itself as 100% vegan. So if you have melasma and are vegan, this is the products for you!
The linked version of this product comes in a 7oz bottle, which offers great value for money. However, if you’d like to try the product without having to commit to this much, you can check out the smaller 2.5 oz version here.
(The reviews on this product are so mixed because of a change in zinc supplier a couple of years ago. This upset a lot of long-time customers who loved the product. The new formula was thick and sticky, wouldn’t fully absorb, and left a white residue on the skin. DeVita listened to this feedback and updated the formula. People are now back to enjoying the product as they had previously.)
- High concentration of active ingredient
- Hydrating ingredients
- Less cosmetic texture
EltaMD UV Physical Broad-Spectrum SPF 41 is, as the name says, a physical, broad spectrum, high-SPF sunscreen that provides great protection from both UVA and UVB radiation. It uses both zinc oxide and titanium dioxide without using hormone disruptors. It has a transparent finish and is suitable for use as a base under makeup.
EltaMD UV Physical is also paraben, oil, and fragrance free. It was designed to be suitable for extra-sensitive and post-procedure skin. This means it is great if you are undergoing melasma treatment and are looking for a product gentle enough for your skin during treatment.
This sunscreen is lightly tinted to smooth and brighten skin tone. When used in combination with makeup, EltaMD UV Physical blends seamlessly and looks very natural. The color it provides accommodates many shades of skin. Darker skin colors may notice an ashy look after application, however, this can easily be managed with an appropriate foundation.
If you like the sound of this product but are looking for a non-tinted version, EltaMD UV Shield SPF 45 is a good alternative.
- Lightly tinted
- Designed for sensitive skin
- 40-minute water resistance
- Lower levels of active ingredients
Heliocare Ultra SPF 50+ Gel is a high-SPF, broad spectrum, physical sunscreen that uses both zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as its active ingredients. It is free from hormone disruptors, suitable for daily use on the face, and works well under mineral makeups.
This product is marketed specifically for use after clinical treatments. It was designed to work well on skin at its most sensitive, while it needs the most protection. This is fantastic if you are undertaking dermatological melasma treatment and are looking for a product that won’t affect your more sensitive skin.
The gel has a moisturiser-like texture and is transparent, so won’t leave a white cast on your face. The formula’s lack of comedogenic (blackhead-causing) lipids make it great for greasy and mixed skin types prone to breakouts. It has a light feel and absorbs well to allow makeup application.
This is the most expensive sunscreen recommended in this list and this could make you think twice about purchasing it. If that is the case, you could reserve this sunscreen only for when undergoing treatment when your skin is particularly vulnerable.
(This sunscreen was previously known as Heliocare Ultra SPF 90 Gel. However, due to new packaging restrictions, the product can now only be marketed at SPF 50+. If you’re interested in this product you can get the old SPF 90 version for slightly cheaper.)
- Designed for post-treatment skin
- Cosmetic texture
- High SPF
- Very expensive
After reading this summary of the best sunscreens for melasma, the relevant factors that contribute to this important choice should be a lot clearer.
SimplySunSafe recommends BurnOut SPF 30 for Face & Body, however, all 5 provide the required protection without negatively affecting your melasma. Feel free to test a few of these products as experimenting and adjusting based on your personal preferences will result in you finding the perfect product for your own skin.
If you know of a product that has been particularly effective for your melasma, please let me know about it in the comments below and I will consider adding it to this guide.
If you’d like sunscreen recommendations for other skin conditions, SimplySunSafe has a range of guides including sunscreen for PMLE and sunscreen for skin sensitivity. Just go to the top of this page and search for a condition to find the recommendations you’re looking for.