The Healthy Effect of Tinted Sunscreen for People of Color

Tinted sunscreens are in the spotlight after recent studies have shown the positive effects of protection from visible light (VA), particularly for people of color.

The mineral-based tinted sunscreen formulations have an added color base that can help even out skin tone while protecting your skin. And thanks to their ability to block visible light, they offer protection from long-term hyperpigmentation (dark spots on the skin) in people with darker skin tones.

The Effect of Visible Light on Your Skin

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation and visible light are both part of the electromagnetic spectrum. UV radiation is composed of three different wavelengths: UVA, UVB, and UVC. The first two – UVA and UVB — are the primary wavelengths that penetrate the skin’s surface. UVA is primarily responsible for premature skin aging, and UVB leads to sunburns and skin cancer. The sun is the main source for ultraviolet light, but it also comes from artificial sources such as tanning beds and indoor lighting.

Visible light is also emitted by the sun. It is the portion of the electromagnetic spectrum that can be perceived by the human eye. Visible light is also found in artificial sources, including medical devices, screens and light bulbs. Wherever it comes from, visible light is often beneficial, with several skin-related therapeutic uses in dermatology to treat superficial blood vessels, remove unwanted hair, and treat acne and precancerous skin lesions.

Visible light penetrates much deeper into the skin than ultraviolet light, however, and it and can have negative consequences for your skin, too. For people of color, this includes long-term excess skin pigmentation – dark spots on the skin where light exposure is prevalent. The rapidly increasing use of smartphones, tablets, laptops and other digital screens that all are a source of visible light are raising a red flag for those concerned with the amount of visible light exposure humans are experiencing.

Tinted Sunscreens Offer Best Solution for POC

In a recent study published in Cutis, a peer-reviewed clinical publication for dermatologists, researchers studied sunscreens of all types including chemical vs. physical, pigmented vs. sheer, and other relevant variables. What did they learn?

Broad-spectrum, non-tinted sunscreens contain filters that block UVA and UVB, but these preparations are not designed to block visible light. To block visible light, a sunscreen must be visible on skin. Particles in broad-spectrum, non-tinted sunscreens are “nanosized” (made smaller) to help reduce the white appearance of sunscreen. Thus, non-tinted sunscreens are formulated to be invisible on skin, and therefore cannot block visible light.

Tinted sunscreens, in contrast, combine broad-spectrum ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide with added pigments — pigmentary titanium dioxides and iron oxides — that create the visible, skin-tone color that can reflect away visible light. The colored base of tinted sunscreens is created by mixing different amounts of black, red, and yellow iron oxides with pigmentary titanium dioxide, resulting in a tinted sunscreen that can be matched to any skin tone.

In the research, tinted sunscreens were shown to reduce hyperpigmentation, both on the skin surface and under a microscope. Iron oxide, in particular, appears to be particularly effective at blocking blue light.

The Takeaway for Those With Darker Skin

If you have dark skin, ranging from Fitzpatrick types III and above, visible light can cause both immediate and persistent darkening of the pigment in your skin.

Tinted sunscreens formulated with iron oxide have been shown to aid in the treatment of melasma and prevent hyperpigmentation (dark slots) in people with darker skin tones. Today’s sunscreens have added ingredients with hydrating, anti-aging and other cosmetic properties.  Some even shrink pores, soften lines and promote even skin tone.  And some sunscreens feature tone adjusting pigment to appeal to a wider group of skin tones.  An assortment of tinted sunscreens can be found in our website at

Skin Cancer is Colorblind

Dermatologists are concerned that people with darker skin tones may mistakenly believe skin cancer is not something they should worry about. But nothing could be further from the truth.  While added pigment does lead to some prevention of skin cancer, some studies suggest that even for the darkest skin tones pigmentation provides a natural SPF (sun protection factor) of 13, which is far below dermatologists’ recommendations.

If you’re still not sure you need sunscreen, consider Bob Marley. Marley died in 1981 of malignant melanoma, a deadly type of skin cancer caused by the sun. All types of skin cancer are increasing among Hispanics and blacks, and when the cancer is melanoma it is often more fatal because is usually detected later, at a more advanced stage.

The Takeaway for Those With Darker Skin – Part 2

Prevention and early detection are just as important in people with lovely, dark pigmented skin.  Protect yourself with sunscreen when spending any time outdoors and learn the early warning signs of skin cancer. If you have a lesion or mole that changes at all, or if you have a spot that bleeds and doesn’t heal, see one of one board-certified dermatologists at Midwest Dermatology. You can schedule your appointment online or call us at (402) 933-0800.

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