A common misconception is that those with darker skin tones don’t need sun protection. Apart from protecting against skin cancer, sun protection is essential in deeper skin tones to prevent hyperpigmentation and skin aging. Here we’ll discuss hyperpigmentation in skin of color, and strategies to prevent it. 

Understanding Hyperpigmentation 

In dermatology, the term “skin of color” encompasses those with darker skin tones, representing a wide range of ethnic and racial backgrounds. Melanin acts as the skin’s “natural sunscreen” by protecting it against sun damage, as a result, the skin tans in response to sun exposure. Because those with deeper tones have higher melanin levels, excessive sun exposure is more likely to trigger excess skin pigmentation. 

Excess pigmentation can be triggered by many factors such as sun exposure, hormones, age, and skin inflammation. However, sun exposure is the main driver of melanin production, which can lead to a range of conditions including dark patches, sun spots, and melasma. When the skin is injured or inflamed, it produces more melanin as part of the healing process, leading to a condition called post inflammatory hyperpigmentation, or PIH. Dark spots and patches that are seen in PIH are exacerbated by sun exposure as well. 

Ultraviolet Radiation, Visible Light, and Oxidative Stress

The sun produces ultraviolet radiation, which includes UVA and UVB radiation. UVA rays are responsible for skin aging, whereas UVB rays are associated with sunburns. Both UVA and UVB rays can cause skin cancer, regardless of skin tone, as well as lead to hyperpigmentation. Recent studies show that visible light in the environment, (including from electronic devices), can contribute to skin hyperpigmentation in skin of color, too. Oxidative stress produced by ultraviolet rays is also a cause of premature skin aging and skin pigmentation. Given all these factors, using sunscreens designed to protect against UVA, UVB, visible light, and oxidative stress is key in protecting skin of color. 

Sun Protection in Skin of Color

The bottom line is: all skin tones need sun protection. Even though people with deeper skin tones are less likely to burn, sun damage is more likely to present as pigmentation and skin aging. Eumelanin is the type of melanin that is predominant in skin of color. While this type of melanin absorbs a portion of UV rays, studies show the darkest skin tones only have a baseline level of SPF13. This is why sun protection is essential, regardless of complexion. 

Sun exposure is the primary cause of hyperpigmentation, so sun protection is the best first step in preventing all kinds of hyperpigmentation. So what’s the solution? Consistently use a broad spectrum sunscreen with SPF30 or above. For deeper skin tones, using a sunscreen formulated with iron oxides can also help protect against visible light damage, hyperpigmentation, oxidative stress, and aging.

EltaMD Sunscreens to the Rescue

The EltaMD UV Clear Broad Spectrum SPF46 is  a lightweight formula that blends well into all skin tones, and is a derm-favorite for sun protection. It contains zinc oxide, a natural mineral that works by reflecting and scattering UV rays. It also contains tocopheryl acetate, or vitamin E, which is an antioxidant that reduces free radical damage in the skin. In addition, niacinamide (vitamin B3), and hyaluronic acid in this sunscreen help improve skin inflammation, skin texture, and skin hydration. EltaMD UV Clear also comes in a tinted formulation, formulated with iron oxides to protect against visible light damage.

The EltaMD UV AOX Mist Broad Spectrum SPF40 is a sheer-finish mineral sunscreen spray. It has white-to-clear technology, making it an ideal for all skin complexions. It’s formulated with zinc oxide, as well as antioxidants vitamin C and E, for optimal sun and free-radical protection. It also contains coconut fruit extract, aloe vera, and glycerin that moisturize and hydrate the skin. 


  • Toral Vaidya

    Dr. Toral Vaidya is a dermatology resident physician with a keen interest in skin of color and cosmetic dermatology. In addition to her clinical work, she is passionate about skincare education. In her free time, she pursues freelance writing for prominent medical and beauty publications.

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