Sunscreen and brown skin: Let's talk about it. One of the biggest misconceptions in beauty is that if you have extra melanin in your skin, you don't need sunscreen. The melanin in our skin can do a lot of magical things, but protecting us from the sun is not one of them. For years and years, sunscreens were terribly formulated and would leave an ashy residue on dark skin tones. The selection of sheer sunscreens in the market is extremely limited. To this day, it's still a challenge finding a variety of sunscreens that are brown skin–friendly.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, "People of color have a lower risk than whites of getting skin cancer. But they still have a risk. Monthly skin self-exams can help you find skin cancer early when a cure is likely." To reduce your risk of skin cancer, the organization highly suggests wearing sunscreen that has broad-spectrum protection, is SPF 30 or greater, and is water-resistant.
I reached out to the women in my circle, who happen to be beauty editors of color, to see which sunscreens they depend on for sheer, hydrating, and SPF protection. Ahead, you'll see an array of beautiful, dark skin tones and the sunscreens that were surely made with #BlackGirlMagic in mind.
Khalea, global editorial manager at MAC Cosmetics
"Growing up, my mom would force me to slather myself with this goopy, weird-smelling sunscreen from Walmart whenever we had to leave our air-conditioned apartment and face the brutal Georgia heat. And every time, the sunscreen would proceed to slide off my skin and mingle with my sweat. Cute, right? Aside from finding a formula that doesn’t look ashy on my dark brown complexion, I also prefer a water-resistant one for the very reason above. I put Kiehl's Activated Sun Protector Water-Light Lotion for Face & Body on nearly every day in the summer, even when I'm nowhere near the pool. It's smooth, doesn't leave a cast, and stays put even when I'm melting."
Tembe, staff writer at The Strategist
"Sunscreen has gone from something I didn't think I needed to a product I use every day. Growing up, I didn't think I had to use sunscreen (save for long days at the pool and trips to Six Flags), so realizing I had to add it to my daily routine was definitely an adjustment. Once I realized it was a necessity, I went on the hunt to find one that worked for me. After learning about the benefits of physical sunscreen, I was determined to find one that was brown-girl friendly, which is code for doesn't turn my face gray. My criteria were simple. It had to be affordable, effective, and a physical sunscreen. That leads me to my favorite, a sunscreen stick that is super portable and easy to apply on the go. The product in question is Bare Republic's Tinted Mineral Sport Stick—a sunscreen that doesn't leave a white cast, isn't greasy, and offers protection throughout the day. It's literally all I used on my baecation in Mexico, and it kept me glowing and sunburn-free. And the best part? It's available at Target—so you can pick it up while buying all those other things you (probably) don't need."
Jackie, style and beauty reporter at Good Morning America
"For a long time, I stuck with using a moisturizer Ambi used to make with SPF in it because it was a brand my late grandmother, who had really deep beautiful chocolate skin, used. I figured if it worked well for her, it should for me—plus, it was affordable.
"Years later, I've dibbled and dabbled with other moisturizers that include SPF/sunscreen, and I've found Olay, Farmacy, Urban Skin Rx, and Glossier to have some really amazing formulations that keep me moisturized and protected. I would have to say my absolute favorite right now is Glossier Invisible Shield Daily Sunscreen SPF 35. It has legit UVA/UVB filters, vitamin E, aloe leaf extract, and no joke, it seamlessly melts into your skin without leaving a trace behind. It almost feels too good to be true. I think I'll be sticking with it for a long time.
"When it comes to sunscreen for the body, I've really been in love with Coola's offerings for the last few years. They have a Tropical Coconut SPF 30 spray that's so bomb! It's lightweight, settles into my brown skin clean, and smells delicious. It's a beach bag staple that many melanated queens would appreciate!"
Janell, freelance beauty editor and creative consultant
"I've tested so many sunscreens over the years, and there have been many #fails. It's so embarrassing to end up at the beach or pool looking gray, ashy, or purple—but it's even worst to chill in the sun without any protection. Yes, it can be annoying to find the right formula/product. However, it's super important for people of color to protect all that #melaninmagic. One brand that hasn't let me down is Supergoop! (I've been using it faithfully since 2013). I'm a longtime fan of their Everyday Sunscreen; it's the perfect oil-free, quick-absorbing, and light-weight formula. And I have to give props to Black Girl Sunscreen because the name says it all."
Siraad, social media editor at Flamingo
"Oh man, I've had a long and bumpy journey to finding the perfect sunscreen that works for my beautiful deep skin. I remember back in the day having very limited options, and those that I did have were super chalky and left my skin super ashy, which is a no-no. Thankfully, I've been wearing sunscreen for a while now (I think I started back in high school/early college), and back then I would use body sunscreen on my face—think Coppertone and Neutrogena.
"Thank goodness those days are long behind me! When it comes to a good facial sunscreen now, I look for ones that blend seamlessly into my skin, don't leave a cast, and also leave my skin feeling moisturized and not super dry. After testings lots, my favorites are 3Lab's Perfect Sunscreen, Susanne Kaufmann’s Face Sunscreen, and of course, Glossier’s Invisible Shield.
"All three of these are great because they look great under or over makeup, look great on all skin tone, and leave my dry skin moisturized."
Jihan, digital editor at Allure
"I have dark skin, so trying to find a sunscreen, to put it simply, has been a total bitch. I've walked around with my face looking like Ashy Larry—my mother, who made sure I was moisturized every single day, would be ashamed. I've used tinted sunscreens I thought were for melanated folks, but turned out just being slightly less ashy than the ones not made for dark skin. It's as if people don't realize that some folks are darker than beige. I started wearing SPF 30 every day at 25 years old, so it's definitely been a journey with tons of trial and error. Kiehl's ultra facial moisturizer was my go-to in my younger days, but it can make you a little too dewy sometimes. Now, the Coola Sport White Tea SPF 50 sunscreen is a favorite of mine. It makes me glowy, and it leaves not even a little bit of a trace of residue. The glow is REAL. Like I put it on, and I don't even need a highlighter."
Deena, freelance beauty writer
"It is extremely frustrating finding a sunscreen that doesn't make my brown skin look ashy. Most physical sunscreens contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide which leave a white cast. For this reason, I generally stay away from physical sunscreens and opt for chemical sunscreens with oxybenzone and avobenzone. Don't judge me!
"Sunscreen in a spray form is always a win in my book because it doesn't disturb any makeup I've already applied. I love this so much I actually spray it all over my body." (Ed Note: To make sure you're properly protected, it's important to rub in your spray sunscreen. This helps you achieve full, even coverage.)
Blake, beauty and style editor at Essence
"Admittedly, until my adult years, I was ignorant about the need for sunscreen on brown skin. In my head, melanin was all the protection I needed. It's safe to say I quickly learned otherwise. And though I had become well aware of the importance of a reliable SPF, I still couldn't find one that I wanted to wear, one without a white cast that would turn me a hue of purple. After a dozen tries with a dozen different sunscreens proved unsuccessful, I came across Shiseido's Sun Protection Clear Stick, and I've been hooked ever since. Its clear color leaves absolutely no ashy residue and its lightweight texture makes it perfect for these hot summer months. Though it's sad that something as essential as SPF is rarely made with women of color in mind, I'm thankful for Shiseido for creating a sunscreen that I'm actually excited to apply."
Maya Allen, beauty director at InStyle
"I'll be honest and say that slathering on sunscreen every single day still doesn't feel like second nature to me. Yes, I do it, but I definitely didn't grow up wearing sunscreen. So I have to remind myself to do this every day. It's actually one of the beauty lessons I wish my mom would've taught me growing up. I used to share the same sentiments as many women of color, which was the misconception that my melanin protected me from the sun. Finding a sunscreen that suits my dark skin tone has been an accomplishment I'm proud of, considering the limited options on the market that'll leave an unsightly white cast on my complexion. Its formula feels as light as a feather and extremely moisturizing. I sweat a lot, and this is blended with oleosome microspheres, which outlast my extra-sweaty days."
American Academy of Dermatology. Skin Cancer in People of Color.
American Academy of Dermatology. How to Use Stick and Spray Sunscreens.