15 Sheer Sunscreens That Won't Leave Behind an Ashy Cast

Women with darker skin tones have every right to be skeptical of sunscreens. The Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology recently reported that only 15% of black women and 36% of Hispanics wear sunscreen. It's important to understand that black women are two and half times more likely to be diagnosed with skin cancer than white women. 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've 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.