Over the years I’ve had a few bouts of melasma. Both my pregnancies triggered hyperpigmentation on my forehead and cheeks, and many years ago while I was experimenting with a fruitarian diet, I got the worst hyperpigmentation ever.
Hormones, sun exposure, hot temperatures, inflammation, and even too much sugar in your diet can trigger melasma and hyperpigmentation (check out this blog post).
It’s been a little over a year since I gave birth to my second daughter Skye. I’ve been able to reduce the melasma on my face significantly (about 90% is now gone), but there’s still a little that lingers. I’ve noticed that when I use certain sunscreens, my melasma can get better, or worse.
And that’s what I want to share with you today.
If you have hyperpigmentation or melasma, and you’ve tried all sorts of skin care products, diet changes, or in-office procedures to get rid of it – but it’s still not fading, or it fades temporarily but keeps coming back – I want to make sure you’re using the right sunscreen.
This is one detail not many people know about. In terms of getting the best sun protection (and protecting your existing melasma or hyperpigmnetation from getting worse), you’ve got to use a broad spectrum sunscreen that protects you from both UVA and UVB rays (and surprisingly, not all sunscreens are formulated to do that).
With my fair skin, I’m diligent about wearing sunscreen, and I’m always trying new ones.
Because I also have breakout prone skin, I much prefer mineral sunscreens (otherwise known as “physical sunscreens”). But, once in a while I do try chemical sunscreens. Living in Southeast Asia, sunscreen technology on this side of the world is more advanced compared to North America, so I like to try new sun protection ingredients and products I have access to. Sometimes too, I try sunscreens that contains a mix of mineral and chemical filters.
What I’ve come to notice is zinc oxide gives me the best protection. I don’t get burned, and my melasma never gets darker when I use a sunscreen with zinc oxide being the main active ingredient. I prefer a sunscreen with just zinc oxide, but sometimes I do use a sunscreen with a mix of zinc oxide and other active ingredients. As long as there’s more zinc oxide in the formula than the other active ingredients, it works.
When I use sunscreens that don’t have zinc oxide, or have more chemical filters, or even more titanium dioxide than zinc oxide – I might not get burned, but the melasma gets darker.
That is because zinc oxide sits on the surface of your skin, it doesn’t let the UV rays get into your skin. Whereas chemical filters work inside your skin to absorb the UV rays. Zinc oxide also offers a much better protection from UVA rays than titanium dioxide, so even if you use a mineral sunscreen, make sure it has a higher percentage of zinc oxide than titanium dioxide (and make sure it’s got zinc oxide in there).
Selecting an effective sunscreen for melasma and hyperpigmentation
Here’s guidelines I follow for selecting the best sunscreen for melasma, and protecting existing hyperpigmentation from getting darker. The right sunscreen will help prevent sun damage and dark spots:
- Choose SPF 30 or higher.
- Use a mineral sunscreen (physical sunscreen) made with all or mostly zinc oxide (can have another active ingredient, but I find the ones that are made only with zinc work the best. If there is another active ingredient, the % of zinc oxide must be higher than the other active ingredient(s).
- Don’t just buy a sunscreen because it says it’s a mineral or physical sunscreen, make sure to read the ingredients and check the active ingredients to make sure there is zinc in there. Sometimes a sunscreen will say it’s a mineral, organic, or a natural sunscreen, but it can end up containing mostly chemical filters with a little zinc, or has a much higher percentage of titanium dioxide than zinc oxide.
- Titanium dioxide does protect your skin from the sun, but it doesn’t offer the same strength of UVA & UVB protection zinc oxide does. It’s ok for it to be in the formula, but make sure the formula has a higher % of zinc oxide.
- If you are using a Japanese or Korean sunscreen, make sure the PA score is PA++++ (not PA+, PA++, or PA+++). There must be 4 “+” signs. The PA score is the measurement of UVA protection, and PA++++ is the highest protection score. UVA rays are the rays that are aging and damaging your skin, and causing the pigmentation and dark spots (UVB rays cause sun burn and more immediate damage).
- If you have dry skin, avoid sunscreens with alcohol in the top 5 ingredients. If you have sensitive skin, avoid sunscreen with synthetic fragrance.
- If you have oily skin, avoid sunscreens with an oil listed in the first 3 ingredients (it could be too oily or emollient for your liking). Usually a sunscreen with aloe being in the first five ingredients is a better choice for oily skin types.
- A tinted mineral sunscreen usually doesn’t have a white cast (and most aren’t heavily pigmented, so it just blends right into your skin).
- For protecting melasma and hyperpigmentation, best to use a sunscreen cream or lotion, not a spray or powder (sunscreen spray or powder can be used as a top-up, but shouldn’t be used as your main sunscreen or base layer of protection). Using a sunscreen cream or lotion ensures your entire face/body is evenly protected.
- For best protection, reapply sunscreen throughout the day.
- If you really don’t like mineral sunscreens at all, I recommend using your regular chemical sunscreen, and on top of that sunscreen, apply the mineral sunscreen where you have pigmentation or melasma. This way, you are making sure you are getting the broad spectrum UV protection on the areas of your face that need it.
- Nowadays there’s more and more mineral sunscreens available. So if you don’t like one, try another. Sometimes you have to try a few until you find a product that really works for your skin and feels good to wear every day.
What’s my favourite sunscreen?
Suntegrity 5 in 1 Natural Moisturizing Face Sunscreen SPF 30 (Tinted) is the best face sunscreen I have found, I love it! The active ingredient is 20% non-nano zinc oxide. It’s a tinted BB cream with no white cast. It’s fragrance-free, essential oil-free, and moisturizing without causing breakouts or clogged pores. It’s lightly tinted, which evens out skin tone and perfects the skin, and very natural looking (it blends right into your skin). The formula has a lot of hydrating and skin benefiting ingredients making your skin soft and smooth. Suntegrity 5 in 1 Face Sunscreen is suitable for all skin types and does a great job at protecting your skin (and melasma) from the sun.
For reapplying sunscreen throughout the day, I’ve been using Suntegrity Pressed Mineral Powder Compact SPF 50. This too is a zinc-based mineral sunscreen but in powder form. It’s a very fine powder, and I like to use it to touch up on areas of my face that need extra protection (like the melasma patches on my forehead). I find this is a very easy, no-fuss way to top-up on sun protection, especially when you are on the go, or wearing makeup.
What else has helped fade my melasma and hyperpigmentation?
As I mentioned in the video above, over the past year I’ve been able to fade 90% of the melasma I developed during my last pregnancy. What worked the best for me was a combination of regular exfoliation, using products containing vitamin C, and wearing sunscreen every day. Here’s the list of products that I used this past year that really worked for me:
Oskia – Renaissance Cleansing Gel is one of the most effective products I have used to fade most of the melasma and hyperpigmentation on my face. This cleanser has vitamins A and C, MSM, and other exfoliating enzymes. It’s a gentle, no foaming cleansing gel that’s suitable for all skin types.
Here’s 2 face masks that immediately brighten my skin and have made a significant difference in hyperpigmentation and dark spots. These two masks exfoliate your skin gently and beautifully, and are suitable for all skin types:
VERDURA naturalternatives – Fruit Complex Facial Mask brightens your skin and makes it silky soft and smooth. The fruit enzymes gently exfoliates helping to fade hyperpigmentation and dark patches. The colloidal oat softens, soothes and hydrates the skin while calming inflammation. Using this mask, your skin will glow with a brighter, more even complexion.
UMA – Absolute Anti-Aging Face Mask is made with turmeric, which is a known skin brightener, and has been used by many cultures to fade darks spots and pigmentation. This mask immediately brightens your skin, plus the bentonite clay makes it clarifying. All around, it can help fade dark patches, plus draw out impurities from your pores, leaving your skin super bright and clear).
*UPDATE*: Living Libations – Frankincense Best Skin Ever and Rose Renewal + Frankincense Firming Fluid is something I recently found that has helped fade the remainder of my stubborn melasma. These two products work best together (wash your face with the Frankincense Best Skin Ever, followed by using the Rose Renewal + Frankincense Firming Fluid as a treatment serum). You can check out my review here.