Women with darker skin tones have every right to be skeptical of sunscreens. The Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology reported that only 15% of Black women and 36% of Hispanics wear sunscreen. It's important to note that Black patients are over three times more likely than non-Hispanic white patients to receive a late-stage melanoma diagnosis. Black women: We must protect our skin. No matter what the women in your family with the same skin tone as you have told you or not told you, the rich melanin in our skin does not make us immune to sun damage from harmful UV rays. Our melanin actually makes our skin more prone to hyperpigmentation, dark spots, and skin conditions like melasma when exposed to too much sun.
I recently shared in a Byrdie feature that I wish my mom would have instilled in me the importance of wearing sunscreen on a daily basis as opposed to slathering it all over before a family beach trip. However, the longtime woe for women of color is finding a sheer sunscreen that isn't greasy and doesn't leave an ashy white cast. Many mainstream brands advertise sunscreens that work for all skin tones but instead only pay attention to the ingredients and not what it looks like on the skin.
Craig Kraffert, MD, board-certified dermatologist and president of Amarte Skin Care, shares with us why some sunscreens will work for dark skin tones while others won't. "Broadly speaking, there are two classes of approved sunscreen ingredients in the United States: chemical and mineral," explains Kraffert. "Chemical ingredients can be used alone to create broad-spectrum high-SPF products. The problem with high-performance chemical SPF ingredient–based sunscreens is that they tend to be inelegant and sometimes irritating. Rather than that nice sheer, absorptive experience we all seek, these products tend to be thicker and sticky with poor absorptive properties. On the other hand, physical ingredient–based sunscreens can provide high performance while remaining relatively sheer. The issue with these products is that they tend to leave an ashy or grayish-white cast on the skin, which is particularly noticeable (and unattractive) on darker skin types."
Kraffert continues: "My research and work on sunscreen formulations have led me to conclude that optimal elegance in terms of sheerness, absorption, and surface sheen and tone is created by formulating with a select blend of both physical and chemical sunscreen ingredients." You read right. A sunscreen can be completely colorless while remaining at the top of its A game. Below are sheer sunscreens dermatologists recommend for all skin tones, along with sunscreens the Internet loves the most.
Amarte Ultra Veil Facial Sunscreen
"Ultra Veil is water-resistant, broad spectrum, and SPF 50+," explains Kraffert. "It goes on like silk and absorbs quickly, leaving a moist, touchable, and aesthetically improved skin appearance. The interesting thing about Ultra Veil is that its sheerness can be enjoyed on all skin types, from the lightest to darkest, without being tarnished by an ashy or grayish-white reflection. Amarte achieved this unique feat by first carefully considering how much zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to deploy in formulation. Even more importantly, Amarte has perfected processing methods for the titanium and zinc raw ingredients that greatly improve their optical and reflective properties. This has been accomplished through a combination of mineral grading, grinding, and sorting protocols."
G.M. Collin Dry Touch SPF 50+ Sun Protection Cream
"This is suitable for all skin tones due to the SPF protection and the sheer coverage it provides," explains G.M. Collin's national director of education and lead aesthetician, Karen Asquith. "It has both UVA and UVB protection to prevent sunburn from the UVB rays and the aging effects from UVA exposure. It is easy to apply, does not leave any white residue, and finishes with a light, dry feeling on the skin. It is water-resistant for up to 80 minutes, making it the ideal companion for fun in the sun without regret!"
HydroPeptide Solar Defense Non-Tinted
"In my practice, sunscreen compliance is a challenge, and in the past, companies stopped at the sunscreen part and ignored how the creams made the skin feel and look," shares Jamé Heskett, MD, author of The Well Path. "Breakouts are the number one reason clients stop using sunscreens. Also, the greasy or opaque look of most sunscreens is a common complaint. Sunscreen doesn't work if you don't wear it. With HydroPeptide's Solar Defense, no matter what skin type they have, my clients rave at the weightlessness of the cream and the matte, sheer look it gives their skin. Its unique formula was developed to reduce oily skin and promote a clear complexion while benefiting all skin types.”
RéVive Skincare Firming Moisture Cream Broad Spectrum SPF 30 Sunscreen
"Our sunscreen is sheer since we only use chemical sunscreens and not physical," says Gregory Brown, MD, founder of RéVive Skincare. "Zinc or titanium, even when micronized, can feel chalky and can leave a white cast. Chemical sunscreens don't leave a white residue, so they are perfect for all skin tones."
Jane Iredale HandDrink Hand Cream
This mighty hand cream has a fast-absorbing texture that is completely colorless. It's made of SPF 15, zinc oxide, and titanium dioxide, which work together for effective protection that feels light and hydrating on your hands.
Clinique Sun Broad Spectrum SPF 50 Body Cream
This body sunscreen contains SolarSmart technology, which promises maximum protection from the sun and is meant to reduce visible signs of aging with active ingredients like antioxidants. Its oil-free, so you won't have to worry about the formula leaving behind a greasy residue.
Palmers Eventone Suncare Moisturizing Sunscreen SPF 30
Cocoa butter is derived from the cacao bean and is rich in fatty acids and antioxidants. It fights free radicals, fades scars, and soothes skin irritations.
This budget buy is blended with hydrating ingredients like cocoa butter, shea butter, and coconut oil, along with SPF to add a protective layer to the skin. More importantly, it's infused with CocoaPlex technology meant to combat hyperpigmentation suitable for all skin tones, uneven complexions, and signs of aging.
La Roche-Posay Anthelios Clear Skin Oil Free Dry Touch Sunscreen Lotion SPF 60
Consumer Reports released its Annual Sunscreen Guide and this sunscreen passed with flying colors, winning first place with the perfect score for UVA and UVB protection. It's velvety texture is far from chalky, so your skin will drink this sheerness right up.
Unsun SPF 30 Mineral Tinted Sunscreen
Musical genius Frank Ocean's mom, Katonya Breaux, developed Unsun, which is a mineral sunscreen for dark skin tones. Its universally flattering coverage works on a wide range of complexions, with SPF 30 that won't leave any signs it's even there.
Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Sunscreen Lotion
This oil-free, waterproof formula feels light as a feather. Using SPF 55, it works just as hard without the heavy residue.
Cover FX SPF 30 Booster Drops Broad Spectrum Sunscreen
This fluid serum sunscreen infused with SPF 30 provides a weightless layer of defense that offers protection against harmful sun damage and pollution. Whether you're mixing it in with a moisturizer or applying it over the top, make sure you're using enough to get the full benefits.
Glossier Invisible Shield Daily Sunscreen SPF 35
If the gorgeous Glossier models lathering this clear, water- and gel-based sunscreen on don't make you feel like you need it, maybe the fact that it actually works on all skin tones, being that it's completely invisible will. It has sun and skin benefits with microcapsules meant to rapidly absorb into your pores.
SkinCeuticals Light Moisture UV Defense Sunscreen
This dermatologist-trusted brand has a sunscreen that'll quickly blend into your skin without leaving behind any residue. Full of healthy ingredients that signify a good sunscreen, this lightweight lotion is completely translucent, making it an ideal option for all complexions.
Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 40
This is a totally invisible, nontoxic sunscreen that acts a primer and moisturizer in one. It has a gripping consistency, so it's perfect to apply right before makeup so you can achieve that second-skin finish.
Shiseido Ultimate Sun Protection Lotion Wet Force SPF 50
This silky formula seeps right into the skin has a clear consistency that goes on sheer. With its SPF 50 and sun-protection technology, it can withstand the toughest heat. So if you have a long day outdoors ahead of you, keep this one in reach.
Rest assured that the Internet has spoken and dermatologists have confirmed that these are the absolute best sheer sunscreens on the market.
Holman DM, Berkowitz Z, Guy GP Jr, Hawkins NA, Saraiya M, Watson M. Patterns of sunscreen use on the face and other exposed skin among US adults. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2015;73(1):83-92.e1. doi:10.1016/j.jaad.2015.02.1112
Skin Cancer Foundation. Skin cancer facts & statistics.
Cleveland Clinic. Melasma. Updated July 27, 2020.
Scapagnini G, Davinelli S, Di Renzo L, et al. Cocoa bioactive compounds: significance and potential for the maintenance of skin health. Nutrients. 2014;6(8):3202-3213. doi:10.3390/nu6083202
Consumer Reports. Sunscreen buying guide. Updated April 16, 2020.