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 Tinted Face Sunscreen, Broad Spectrum SPF 30 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 Tinted Sunscreen is suitable for all skin types and does a great job at protecting your skin (and melasma) from the sun.
You can check out my review of Suntegrity Face Sunscreens here.
Hi natasha I am suffering from hyperpigmentation and I am using the australian gold tinted sunscreen. I like it, it has got 4% titanium oxide and 4% zinc oxide but it offers 50 spf. How well do you rate it ?
I see that you recommended suntegrity but it is a bit too expensive for me, do you have any other recommendations for me ?
I am a dark skinned indian guy with some hyper pigmentation due to acne on cheeks please let me know if you any advice for me whatsoever.
The Australian Gold should be fine. As long as the sunscreen doesn’t have more titanium dioxide than zinc, it should be fine. Just make sure to reapply every 2-3 hours.
Other sunscreens I recommend that are high in zinc are Badger and Juice Beauty
I’m still on the look out to find other high zinc sunscreens I can recommend, as I do, I will update everyone on the blog.
i have melasma in my face and i’m just 28 years old. It’s realy make me feel not confidance. I read and hear many about melasma, but your vidio is really help me than other. And after i hear you vidio i realize that i use the wrong skincare to treat my melasma.
About sunscreen i cant found the right one ( with zinc oxide ) in every shop in my town. ( i live in east nusa tenggara, alor)
Can you recomended me online shop?
I’ve found Sunplay SPF99 PA++++ which has zinc oxide. If you look it up on google there might be an online shop you can buy it from.
I hope this helps!
I have only recently realised that the brown patches on my face are melasma but have found in australia a zinc oxide sunscreen by ego that applies well – sunsense sensitive invisible. Has anyone any experience of this one at all for melasma?
Ive been using Juice Beauty cc cream which has 20% zinc nan nano. Its not ideal (I think everyone is on the search and it still dent exist), but its one of the best out there…..
I’ll have to try it! Thank you for letting me know it working for you. I’m curious, what is your skin type. I’ve heard the Juice Beauty CC cream more suitable for oily skin types, is that true?
Hi, I have pigmentation and a skin sensitive, whatever cream or lotion I apply my face remains dark wen compared to my body,i stopped traveling and hiding myself. I tried Serums, facial oils and sunscreens nothing worked out. Suggest me something that would help me out in this…
It sounds to me you have very sensitive skin, and the pigmentation is getting worse from irritation from skin care products. Have you tried not using anything on your skin for a few weeks or months to see if it balances out? A lot of times we think we need products to cure our skin, but sometimes they just make it worse, or even cause the problem. I suggest taking a break from skin care products and protect your skin from the sun by wearing a hat and avoiding being outside when sun is very hot.
Hi Natsasha ,
My skin is pigmented (like patches) .Got sun damaged .I use Elta MD -spf 46-tinted .Would that work .Also i see you mentioned the mask .How frequently you use ?
Yes, the Elta MD would be fine to use!
Wondering if you have tried any tinted sunscreen from Cult Beauty. Interested in trying the Renaissance Cleansing product as you suggest but thinking of ordering more to qualify for free shipping, since it comes from Britain.
I haven’t tried any of the sunscreens from Cult Beauty, but I can recommend Oskia Renaissance Mask – this is the best mask ever! My top favourite. It’s a lactic acid mask, very gentle, but very effective. It does a great job exfoliating, brightening, plumping, and smoothing the skin. Nothing beats this mask. But it’s not a mask for treating melasma, it won’t make it worse, but it also won’t help fade it either (at least not for me). This is more of a resurfacing, hydrating, skin smoothing mask.
Along with the Oskia Renaissance Cleansing Gel, I’ve also have had amazing result using Living Libations – Frankincense Best Skin Ever (as an oil cleansing) with Living Libations – Rose Renewal + Frankincense Firming Fluid (treatment serum right after cleansing with the oil). These two products have worked amazing at getting rid of the remainder of my melasma. But you need to use them together. If you haven’t seen my review of them, here it is: https://www.inspirebeautyshop.com/living-libations-experiment-final-review/
Let me know how everything works out for you!
Also wondering if you would recommend any of these products thedetoxmarket
Out of all those products, the only thing I would recommend would be the Suntegrity sunscreen.
Unfortunately, a lot of “brightening” products are great for sun spots, sun damage, and pigmentation from acne, but not always good for melasma. Melasma is much deeper, and what ends up happening with a lot of brightening product is the skin around the melasma gets lighter or brighter, but not the melasma, and then the melasma starts appearing darker! So beware of brightening products, especially ones that have lemon or lime juice, citrus essential oils and extracts – these are commonly used in natural brightening products and can sometimes be the worst for melasma. I find products that target inflammation to help the most.
I’m continuing to try products for melasma, and as soon as I find more things that can help, I will definitely update everyone.
Hi Natasha. I read your blog about Living Libations after I ordered the Oskia Renaissance Cleansing Gel (has not arrived yet). In your blog you say that it helped get rid of the rest of your melasma. Would you recommend STARTING with Living Libations? Or do you recommend starting with the Oskia Cleansing Gel and the UMA Absolute Anti-Aging Mask and THEN finishing up with Living Libations?
An Asian dermatologist on YouTube said that chemical sunscreens increase Melasma bc the chemical reaction they produce create heat in the skin which activates melasma pigments. He has several videos on melasma and seems balanced and honest. He works with laser removal and hyperpigmentation and melasma.
Thank you for your message. There’s a lot of different opinions and views on how UV filters work. Like the dermatologist you mentioned, some say chemical filters absorb the UV rays (and heat), whereas mineral filters block it. And then there’s others that say they both in fact absorb the heat. It gets confusing with so many mixed messages. But, one way or another, I find mineral sunscreens to be a lot gentler on the skin, especially zinc. Zinc is also known to be quite soothing and anti-inflammatory. That’s why mineral sunscreens are always recommended for babies and children, it’s much better tolerated by sensitive skin. And as you probably already experience with melasma, melasma skin is sensitive. So the gentler the skin care products, the better!
And good to know I’m not the only one that gets darker melasma when using brightening products. It’s a real pain! It’s because the melasma is deep, a dermal melasma. Whereas if someone has hyperpigmentation on the surface of the skin, then the brightening products might actually help/work.
It’s one of those things where you have to try a bunch of things to see what works (or doesn’t work) for you. I find the gentler the skincare product is, the better.
I made the mistake to get Fraxel to improve and even out my skin tone (I’m Hispanic) and it caused me to have Melasma. My skin was normal just dull before the laser treatment. The Dermatologist whom I seen for years has neglected me after seeing the results of her treatment. After hundreds of dollars on brightening creams sold by this dermatologist in order to reverse the damage I’ve given up. I wouldn’t recommend laser to anyone based on my terrible experience. I hope this helps anyone considering any laser treatment.
I try all the zinc sunscreens I mean all of them, I ended up using a zinc stick, until I found ultraviolette lean screen mineral mattifying, it has 22.75 % Zinc oxide, but the best it feel like you don’t have anything on the skin and goes well under make up and is matte, I am in the UK so I could not buy the USA brands you recommend, also I had multiple holidays in the sun and my melasma didn’t got dark, I wish all to heal your melasma,
Yes, after using brightening facial products, I started to see my melasma more emphasized bc my normal skin got lighter but it did not.
I’m hopeful to try your recommendation on Living Libation for Melasma treatment. I developed Melasma after making the mistake of getting Fraxel to improve my skin overall. I’m 46 so I wanted to improve my skin tone and get rid of some fine lines but my skin looks the worse it’s ever look with these brown spots on my face specially my cheeks. My face has gotten better/lighter but my cheeks have not and it’s been 8 months since my Fraxel nightmare. I hope I can get some help with the living Libation products. I should mention that I got some help applying onion juice on the affected areas. I still have 50% of melasma to get rid of.
Your Fraxel laser experience is heartbreaking. I too had a bad experience with laser many years ago. I had laser hair removal and got hyperpigmentation from it. I believe the technician burned me with the laser (I was blistering for months after the last procedure). Years later when I was pregnant the hyperpigmentation got a lot worse (probably about 2 shades darker) and never quite went back to normal. My best friend too had laser for broken capillaries on her face and she got permanent hypo-pigmentmentation where the laser caused white spots on her face.
Unfortunately you just never know how your skin is going to respond to the laser. Knowing what I know now, I’d never take that risk again. But back then I just didn’t know.
I’m excited for you to try the Living Libations. Perhaps it will be a better approach because it helps soothe the deep inflammation as opposed to brightening the surface of your skin. I recommend using VERY gentle products and while using the two Living Libations products, don’t use any other product containing essential oils (the Suntegrity 5in1 sunscreen is fine, and at night if you need a moisturizer, use something plain without fragrance or essential oils).
If you are still dealing with any post-procedure inflammation, I also recommend VERDURA naturalternatives Illuminati Facial Mask. This is a deeply soothing and nourishing facial mask. It really helps with repairing the skin barrier and getting skin healthy again. Good for repair after laser, or if someone having bad skin irritation from over-exfoliation, or from tretinoin or retinol. If your skin is oily though, it’ll be too rich (it’s best for normal, dry, maturing skin types).
Keep me updated with your progress 🙂
Hello, have you tried any of the products from Beautycounter? Do you have any thoughts on this sunscreen? crunchi.com/get-crunchi/sunlight-facial-cream
Looking at the ingredients, the sunscreen should be ok (it has 15% zinc oxide), but I’ve never tried it, so I can’t say for sure if works good or not. My favourite sunscreen is Suntegrity 5in1 Face Sunscreen, it has 20% zinc oxide and most reliable sunscreen I’ve found. You can check out my review here.