Do chemical sunscreens cause hyperpigmentation

Finding the best sunscreen for melasma is extremely important if you suffer from this skin hyper-pigmentation.

Any melasma treatment you’ve been using successfully will be undone if you step outside in the sun without the right sunscreen protection on. This is especially true if you live in places like Florida where protecting yourself from the sun is a year round concern.

However, finding the best sunscreen for melasma is easier said than done. You not only have to find one that’s effective but you also have to find one that you’ll actually like using on a regular basis.

As you can imagine this can take some trial and error. For this reason we’ve put together this article to help you find the best melasma sunscreen that you’ll be satisfied with using over and over again.

The SPF Value

Not all sunscreens were made the same and the main thing that separates them is the Sunscreen Protection Factor (SPF).  The SPF value of a sunscreen indicates the duration or amount of time it will protect you from the UVB rays of the sun.

For example, if a sunscreen has an SPF of 30 you would be able to stay in the sun 30 times longer than you could without protection.

In general the most effective sunscreens for melasma will provide broad-sprectrum protection (offer protection against both UVA and UVB rays) and will have a SPF value of 30 or greater.

Ultraviolet Rays

In order to be able to choose the best sunscreen for melasma it is a good idea to learn more about Ultraviolet (UV) rays. There are 3 different kinds of UV rays that the sun produces and they include:

UVB – UVB rays are the primary reason for sunburns, peeling of the skin, and blisters as it burns the top layer of the skin (also known as the epidermis), but doesn’t penetrate it.

UVA – UVA rays do penetrate the epidermis (upper layers of your skin), and they are the main cause of skin tanning, wrinkles, and premature aging. The tanning of the skin occurs due to the UVA rays penetrating the skin and increasing the activity of melanocytes, which produces more of the brown pigment inside of your skin known as melanin.

UVC – UVC is the 3rd ultraviolet ray that comes from the sun but we don’t have to worry about it because it can’t penetrate the ozone layer.

The PPD Factor 

One of the best ways to find the best brand of sunscreen for melasma is to determine its PPD (Persistent Pigment Darkening) factor.

As mentioned above the SPF value you’ll see displayed on most sunscreens will only let you know how well the product will protect you against the UVB rays, which are the rays mainly responsible for sunburns and reddening of the skin.

However, the best daily sunscreen for melasma will be effective at protecting against UVA rays, which are the rays mainly responsible for tanning or darkening of the skin (melasma).

So if you can figure out the UVA protection level of a particular sunscreen you’ll be able to determine its effectiveness against melasma.

Before the discovery of the PPD factor it was very frustrating trying to figure out how well a sunscreen protects against UVA rays. Either the product wouldn’t mention anything about any kind of UVA protection, or if they did they wouldn’t let you know the strength of the UVA protection they provided.

Thankfully the creation of the Persistent Pigment Darkening Method has made it possible to accurately figure out how well a particular sunscreen prevents UVA radiation from being absorbed by the skin.

Any sunscreen with a measurement of PPD 15 or higher is effective enough to protect our skin against UVA radiation and melasma. I know you’re probably wondering now what are some good sunscreens that contain both SPF and PPD to protect you against melasma.

Well we’ve got you covered. Here’s an in depth list that displays sunscreens with high PPD and SPF – click here for the list.

Also, you can use this CosDNA tool here to help you quickly analyze any sunscreen product and figure out its PPD rating.

To make things even easier for you take a look at this video tutorial here which gives a great explanation on how to use the first tool to generate the PPD rating for any sunscreen.

Best Sunscreen For Melasma

There are 2 types of sunscreens you need to be aware of and they are chemical sunscreens and physical sunscreens. One of the most common questions we get from our readers is which one is better to use for melasma.

They both help with sun protection but the main difference between the two is how they provide this protection.

Chemical based sunscreens protect your skin from the sun by absorbing its ultraviolet radiation, while physical based sunscreens protects your skin from the sun by deflecting the ultraviolet radiation.

Chemical Sunscreens VS. Physical Sunscreens

Chemical Based Sunscreens – Chemical sunscreens contain a combination of chemicals as their active ingredient and they work by absorbing the sun rays into the skin.

Some of the common chemical ingredients chemical based sunscreens will contain include:

  • Octisalate
  • mexoryl
  • tinosorb
  • Avobenzone
  • Octylcrylene
  • OxyBenzone

Most of these chemical ingredients are not approved by the FDA so they aren’t sold in the US, but they can be purchased in countries like Europe and Asia.

One of the main reasons they aren’t FDA approved is due to the fact that some of these active chemical ingredients like OxyBenzone can be harmful to your skin. Many dermatologists and various studies have concluded that sunscreens that contain these chemicals as active ingredients (particularly oxybenzone) can lead to serious complications such as:

  • Free radical damage
  • Disrupting your hormones
  • Could possibly play a role in skin cancer
  • Could trigger skin pigmentation

If you decide to go with a chemical sunscreen we recommend staying away from brands that have OxyBenzone as an active ingredient.

Some of the advantages and disadvantages of chemical based sunscreens include:


  • They are water and sweat resistant which makes them good for days when you go swimming or when you’re doing an activity that causes you to sweat a lot.
  • They are easier to apply because they are thinner.
  • Often cheaper and easier to find compared to physical based sunscreens.


  • Often takes up to 20 minutes to begin working.
  • They have to be re-applied very frequently because the sun breaks down as much as ninety percent of their effectiveness within 60 minutes.
  • Some of them contain too many irritants and parabens that can actually trigger melasma and make it worse.
  • Some chemical sunscreens can not only cause skin irritation but also acne in some people due to the chemical ingredients they contain.

Physical Based Sunscreens – Physical sunscreens are sometimes called mineral sunblocks because they contain minerals such as Zinc Oxide (ZnO) or/and Titanium Dioxide (Tio2) as an active ingredient.

Physical based sunscreens will bounce UV rays off your skin instead of absorbing it like chemical based sunscreens do. Also, there’s a certain amount of UVA and UVB rays each sunscreen ingredient can cover and most chemical ingredients don’t cover both UVA and UVB rays.

With that being said, physical ingredients like zinc and titanium are much better compared to chemical ingredients because they cover both UVA and UVB rays.

Check out the graph to get an idea of what to expect with different chemical and physical sunscreens.

Pay attention to Zinc Oxide at the very bottom…

As you can see from the chart above most chemical sunscreens only provide good protection from UVB rays, while physical sunscreens that contain zinc oxide as an active ingredient protects the skin against both UVA and UVB rays.

For this reason we recommend a physical sunscreen that only has zinc oxide as a UV filter as the best sunscreen for melasma. Physical sunblocks that contain titanium dioxide as a UV filter are also a good choice to protect you against the sun and melasma.


  • Immediately begins working.
  • Won’t cause you to break out.
  • Won’t cause skin irritation.
  • Won’t have to keep reapplying.


  • Not water resistant like chemical sunscreens. Any type of wetness or moisture (tears, water, etc.) can mess up the original application.
  • Can be hard to find a physical based sunscreen with a high enough concentration of zinc oxide or titanium dioxide to be effective without making your face white.

Best Brand of Sunscreen for Melasma and Hyperpigmentation

Marie Veronique Face Screen

This is a really good sunscreen for melasma because it is 20% full particle zinc and will physically block out both UVA & UVB sun rays perfectly. There’s also a tinted version that makes it more comfortable to wear.

L’Occitane Immortelle Brightening Shield SPF 40

This is one of the best physical sunscreens for melasma because it has a high SPF and it is also anti-aging. What’s really great about it is that it’s not greasy or oily when you apply it. It also doesn’t leave behind a white cast like you’ll notice other physical sunscreens do.

EltaMD UV Clear SPF 46

EltaMD is formulated with zinc oxide and provides great broad-spectrum UV protection.It’s great for acne prone skin. It contains zinc oxide, vitamin E, Lactic acid, hyaluronic acid, and antioxidants. It’s very lightweight and can be worn under your makeup. The Elta MD UV Shield Broad Spectrum SPF 45 is also a great option as well.


This physical sunscreen is 20% zinc oxide and it doesn’t leave behind any whitecast either. It works great at preventing melasma and it also makes an excellent primer for make-up.

The best part is you don’t need to reapply it during the day. This is great because who wants to have to reapply sunscreen and makeup every few hours during a busy day.


This popular physical sunscreen is a light cream that will feel as if it’s not on. It’s very effective during the first few hours after applications, but you will have to reapply it.

Also, it doesn’t make a good base for make-up. Another flaw of this physical sunscreen is the fact that it isn’t very resistant to sweat or water.

For a more detailed list of different sunscreens to help heal melasma click here.


Melasma can definitely be a pain. Sunscreens are essential to prevent melasma from darkening due to the sun or UV exposure. The best sunscreen for melasma is physical sunblock that contains zinc oxide as the active ingredient.

However, just about any broad spectrum sunscreen with a SPF 30 or higher can work too. Just make sure with whatever sunscreen you choose to go with you wear it daily whether you’re inside or outside.

Melasma darkens from sun or any UV exposure. Sunscreens are essential. They should be broad spectrum. A SPF 30 or higher is best. A sunscreen should be worn daily, whether you’re outside or inside.

Besides wearing sunscreen you should also do other things to help treat melasma like wear a hat when you go outside to protect your face from the sun, eat the right foods to help cure melasma from the inside, and using natural remedies for melasma like turmeric.

Filed Under: Melasma SunscreensTagged With: best sunscreen for melasma, how to prevent melasma, melasma treatment, sunscreen