Your ultimate guide to sun protection for dark skin

Because no one wants to look ashy

Black woman with natural textured hair wearing blazer covered in butterflies and sunglasses - gettyimages 2018778445
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Finding the best sun cream and sun protection for dark skin can be a minefield. Do you go for a daily facial sunscreen or an SPF moisturiser? And then there's also the added factor (no pun intended) of whether or not you should be shopping for mineral or chemical sunscreens. And one of the most important things for a person of colour is finding a product that won’t leave you with an ashy white cast. 

I know from personal experience, as a person with melanated skin, that it can be difficult to know if you should be using sun protection (which by the way, yes, you should) and what type of sun protection you should be using. This is why for many people of colour, finding the best SPF for dark skin can be like finding the beauty holy grail. It certainly was the case for me, that was until I fell pregnant, had a baby and began breastfeeding, and I began to second guess my once beloved (and invisible) SPFs that were now apparently ‘not safe’ to use during this particular season in my life. 

And so, my hunt for the best SPF for dark skin was reignited alongside my almost academic deep dive into the science. So read on for the ultimate guide to sun protection for dark skin with a rundown of the best sunscreens that I’ve personally tried and tested. 

Do people of colour need sunscreen? 

Yes, is the short answer to this question, everyone needs sun protection. “The sun is the great star at the centre of our solar system and also the number one most preventable cause of skin ageing and pigmentation,” states Dr Brendan Khong, Medical & Aesthetic Doctor at the Dr David Jack Clinic. And the sun can do all this damage through ultraviolet rays, which are divided into UVA, UVB and UVC. UVC is blocked by the ozone layer, UVB is partially filtered by the atmosphere and clouds, and UVA can pass through glass. “Therefore, a good product should contain both UVB and UVA protection in order to provide optimal protection against UV rays,” explains Dr Rita Bonanno, Clinic Lead at Hair&Skin.

And regardless of skin colour, prolonged exposure to the sun’s UV rays can have harmful effects on the skin. “All skin types can suffer from sunburn, and some individuals can develop sun allergies or exacerbation of existing skin conditions, when exposed to the sun. So, that’s why regardless of skin colour, it’s important for everyone to wear sun protection,” says board-certified facial plastic and reconstructive surgeon, Dr. Kimberly Lee. And as we mentioned before it’s also important for skin cancer prevention, and can deter premature ageing and hyperpigmentation. “I treat all skin types. The sun damage I see in clients' skin often results from years of sun exposure since childhood, gradually appearing as solar (sun spots) or hormonal melasma patches. While freckles may look cute, they may indicate sun damage or melanin damage,” warns Joanne Evans, founder of Skin Matters

Does melanin provide natural sun protection?

You may have heard the myth that people of colour don’t need sunscreen because darker skin tones have melanin or a ‘natural SPF’. But what exactly is melanin and how does it protect you? “Melanin is the dark pigment in the outer layer of skin which gives your skin its natural colour. When you're exposed to UV light, your body protects itself by accelerating the production of melanin and the extra melanin results in the skin turning colour in the form of a tan.” explains Dr Ross Perry, Medical Director of Cosmedics skin clinics.

The amount of melanin an individual produces is generally down to genetics and someone with blonde hair and fair skin is likely to burn faster and easier than someone with darker skin. Which is probably why the myth that people of colour don’t need sunscreen was born. 

The truth is the majority of us don’t produce enough melanin to protect the skin, which leads to the skin getting burnt and potentially leads to skin cancer. “Darker skin only gives you a SPF rating of seven. So, whilst it does take longer for darker skin tones to burn and less UV rays do penetrate our skin, we still can get skin cancer, melasma and hyperpigmentation from UV damage,” explains Dr Vanita Rattan, CEO and Cosmetic Formulator of SkincarebyDrV. And Nikki Hill, Founder and Board-Certified Dermatologist at Skin of Culture and Hair Center adds “I am an advocate that everyone should wear sunscreen every day. Even my patients of colour. I tell them, we don't crack, but we do bend over time and that the sun is breaking down your collagen little by little every day.”

It’s also wort noting that many people tend to assume that skin cancer is more common with Caucasian skin, as the moles and dark lesions are more prevalent on lighter skin tones. But with skin of colour they just tend to be more camouflaged. “It is important to be vigilant of any changes in your skin that may indicate a more severe underlying problem, and seek help from a healthcare professional,” adds Dr Rattan

 Is chemical or mineral sunscreen better for dark skin? 

If you have dark skin, you’ve probably asked yourself: should I pick a chemical or mineral sunscreen? But what on earth is the difference between the two types and which one won’t leave you looking ashy? Let’s start by defining the difference between mineral and chemical sunscreens, which are the two main types of sunscreens. Mineral/physical sunscreens, like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, prevent or work as a barrier (hence their name) for the sun rays that are then reflected off of the skin. The main benefits of mineral sunscreens are that they are less likely to cause irritation and offer broad spectrum protection against UVA and UVB rays. It’s typically recommended for more sensitive skin. 

Meanwhile chemical sunscreens have active ingredients that absorb the UV rays, convert into heat and then release it through the skin. The benefits are that it’s a little easier to apply, and they have a lighter texture to them. “Chemical sunscreens, with compounds like avobenzone or oxybenzone, are easier to apply but may sometimes cause skin irritation in some individuals,” explains Dr Anjali Mahto, Consultant Dermatologist at Self London.

“A lot of people with darker skin tones are drawn to chemical sun creams because they don’t use titanium dioxide or zinc oxide which, in some cases, leaves a white cast on the skin.” adds Dr Dev Patel, founder skincare brand, CellDerma. But the good news is there are plenty of well-formulated sunscreens on the market now that don’t leave a white cast. 

How to find a pregnancy safe sunscreen suitable for dark skin 

Pregnancy and breastfeeding are a huge change in a person’s life (as I can attest), but it can also change your skincare needs. “Pregnant or breastfeeding individuals should be mindful of certain considerations when selecting sunscreen to ensure the safety of both themselves and their infants,” explains Dr Mahto.  

It’s recommended to wear sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30, which is labelled ‘broad-spectrum’ to protect against both UVA and UVB rays. Regular and liberal application of your sunscreen, along with other sun protection measures, remain crucial for skin health during pregnancy and breastfeeding as hormonal changes during pregnancy can make the skin more sensitive to the sun, “but it's important to check the ingredients and avoid retinoids and vitamin A derivatives,” says Joanne.

One more consideration for anyone that’s pregnant or breastfeeding is that “mineral sunscreens do not absorb into the skin or the bloodstream, as opposed to chemical sunscreens. This is why for pregnant mums-to-be, we would always recommend a mineral sunscreen over a chemical sunscreen. They are also hypoallergenic and non-comedogenic,” explains Dr Rattan. Dr Banwell, the founder and former head of the Melanoma and Skin Cancer Unit (MASCU) in East Grinstead adds "The minimum factor I would recommend is SPF 30. The NHS recommends an SPF of at least 30 to protect yourself. Personally, I would use SPF 50. I also recommend using shade, protective clothing and a hat and staying out of the midday sun.“ So remember to consult with a healthcare professional before using any skincare products during this time, this will ensure they align with your individual health conditions and medical advice. 

20 of the best sunscreens for dark skin that won’t leave it ashy 

Now that we've delved into the world of SPFs for dark skin, it’s time to explore which ones have made the cut after being tried and tested by our beauty editor. 

Things we have considered are:

11 Best chemical sunscreens for dark skin

1. Dermalogica Pure Light SPF 50 

Dermalogica Pure Light SPF 50

(Image credit: Dermalogica)

Dermalogica Pure Light SPF 50

Reasons to buy

+
Protects your skin barrier
+
Balances out uneven skin tones

Reasons to avoid

-
Expensive

When I first applied this sunscreen I was a little dubious, as it took a while to sink into the skin. But once it did my skin loved it. That's probably because along with protecting from UV light, it’s been formulated with cross-linked hyaluronic acid to help replenish the skin’s natural moisture barrier and red and brown algae to balance out uneven skin tones. 

2.  Olay Vitamin C Anti Dark Spot Day Cream SPF30 

Olay Vitamin C Anti Dark Spot Day Cream SPF30

(Image credit: Olay)

Olay Vitamin C Anti Dark Spot Day Cream SPF30

Reasons to buy

+
Featherlight whipped cream texture

Reasons to avoid

-
Jar packaging can be a bit messy

The Olay Vitamin C + SPF30 Day Cream has been designed with Olay’s unique SolaSheer TM technology for effective broad-spectrum UV protection without compromising on product texture. And I can attest to this as when I pulled off the protective lid from this SPF, I made an audible gasp. I could see immediately that the texture of the cream was so light and almost like whipped cream on a baked good. Once applied to the skin it left no cast or residue and it smelt really fresh and citrusy like oranges. This SPF protects against harmful UVA and UVB rays while helping to prevent hyperpigmentation and sun-induced dark spots. 

3.  Saltee City Serum SPF 50+

Saltee City Serum SPF 50 +

(Image credit: Saltee)

Saltee City Serum SPF 50 +

Reasons to buy

+
Lightweight
+
Oprah's favourite SPF

Reasons to avoid

-
Doesn't feel like a conventional SPF

The Saltee sunscreen serum left my skin glistening and was really lightweight, but I would expect no less from Oprah Winfrey’s favourite SPF. It absorbed immediately, which surprised me given that it provides SPF 50 UVA and UVB protection. It’s great for anyone that doesn’t like the feel of traditional sunscreens. They also have a moisturising body sunscreen, which I would highly recommend.  

4. RéVive Soleil Supérieur SPF50

RéVive Soleil Superiéur Broad Spectrum SPF50

(Image credit: RéVive)

RéVive Soleil Superiéur Broad Spectrum SPF50

Reasons to buy

+
Luxury feel and smell
+
Gel-like 
+
Endorsed by the Skin Cancer Foundation

Reasons to avoid

-
Very smooth packaging that can easily slip out of your hands
-
Expensive

This sunscreen smells and feels super luxurious, which should come as no surprise given the price tag. The consistency of this sunscreen is almost gel-like and seems to just disappear, which is great if you’re not a fan of traditional sunscreens or creams. Soleil Supérieur is five years in the making and is now endorsed by the Skin Cancer Foundation, which means it’s been given the Seal of Approval for daily use, a sign of the product. And it features a Bio-Renewal Technology that helps renew skin and repair visible signs of ageing.  

5. Hello Sunday The Take-Out One Invisible Sun Stick SPF 30 with Hyaluronic Acid 

Hello Sunday The Take Out One - Invisible Sun Stick SPF30

(Image credit: Hello Sunday)

Hello Sunday The Take Out One - Invisible Sun Stick SPF30

Reasons to buy

+
No mess
+
Small, easy to carry
+
Water and sweat resistant

Reasons to avoid

-
Difficult to know how much to apply

Looking for a way to top up your sun protection without getting your hands messy? Then this stick is for you. As I swiped the stick on my skin (five times is the recommended amount, which is by the way), I was amazed by how smooth, silky and more importantly, invisible this SPF was. It’s enriched with hyaluronic acid, ultra-nourishing oils and has a delicate fragrance of orange, florals and musk. Great for topping up your sun protection on the go as it's water and sweat resistant.  

6.  La Prairie Cellular Swiss UV Protection Veil SPF 50 

La Prairie Cellular Swiss UV Protection Veil SPF 50

(Image credit: La Prairie)

La Prairie Cellular Swiss UV Protection Veil SPF 50

Reasons to buy

+
Moisturising 
+
Enhances skin's ability to defy age-inducing UV-exposure

Reasons to avoid

-
Very expensive

This sunscreen is full on luxury: it smells luxe, feels rich and to say it’s very moisturising is an understatement. But also, I’d expect no less from La Prairie especially with a price tag of £190. It does take a little bit of time to absorb, so don’t be alarmed. The SPF includes extracts from Noble Edelweiss, a resilient plant that enhances skin’s ability to defy age-inducing UV-exposure and external stress factors. And it’s also fortified with Smart Crystal White, a liquorice-based herbal brightening formula exclusively designed for La Prairie.   

7. Face Junkie Neroli Day Cream + Sunscreen

Face Junkie Neroli Day Cream + Sunscreen

(Image credit: Face Junkie)

Face Junkie Neroli Day Cream + Sunscreen

Reasons to buy

+
Doesn't feel like a traditional sunscreen
+
Feel like a ritual

Reasons to avoid

-
Not great if you're sensitive to neroli oil

What I love about this sunscreen is that it doesn’t feel like a sunscreen at all. It feels more like an aromatherapy experience due to the neroli oil. This cream is vegan, feels lightweight and doesn’t contain any zinc to ensure that darker skin tones aren’t left with a chalky, powder-like finish.

 8. NIVEA SUN UV Shine Control SPF50 

NIVEA SUN UV Shine Control SPF50

(Image credit: Nivea)

NIVEA SUN UV Shine Control SPF50

Reasons to buy

+
Great for oily skin types
+
Budget friendly

Reasons to avoid

-
Could be too matte for some

Now when I say that this sunscreen provides shine control, I really mean it. Once applied it left me with a nice matte finish, which is a small miracle as I have the T zone of a 16 year old. This sunscreen is great for oily skin types and those who wear make-up to mattify their faces as it doesn’t feel like you’re wearing anything. Also, it smells like a sunny holiday and doesn’t break the bank. 

9. Dr David Jack All Day Long Daily Moisturiser With SPF 50 

Dr David Jack All Day Long Daily Moisturiser With SPF 50

(Image credit: Dr David Jack)

Dr David Jack All Day Long Daily Moisturiser With SPF 50

Reasons to buy

+
Moisturising 
+
Blue light protection
+
Fragrance-free

Reasons to avoid

-
Expensive
-
Took a while to blend in

As one of London’s most influential aesthetic doctors, Dr. David Jack is well known for his tasteful approach to non-surgical cosmetic treatments. So I had high expectations for this SPF, especially with the £95 price tag. But the moisturising SPF stood up against my tests. Although I will admit that I was alarmed when I first applied it as it was rather white, however after blending it in it absorbed nicely and was so moisturising. It also had no fragrance which is great if you don’t like anything that clashes with your perfume. Also it has blue light protection (great for urbanites) and is vegan.  

10.  BeautyMDx SPF 50 Glow  

Beauty MDX Protect + GLOW SPF50 face lotion

(Image credit: Beauty MDX)

Beauty MDX Protect + GLOW SPF50 face lotion

Reasons to buy

+
Formulated by NHS GP
+
Contains vitamin C
+
Vegan and reef-safe

Reasons to avoid

-
On the expensive side for the size

When an SPF says it’s formulated by medical experts, it sets the bar rather high. But BeautyMDx SPF 50 Glow didn’t disappoint. I found it easy to dispense from the chic glass pump bottle, the SPF melted into my skin and left it feeling moisturised. Which makes sense as Dr Maureen Emeagi, an NHS GP and founder, formulated this SPF with glycerin and vitamin C. It’s also fragrance-free, non-oily, vegan-friendly, and reef-safe.  

11. Shiseido Clear Suncare Stick SPF50+ 

Shiseido Clear Suncare Stick SPF50+

(Image credit: Shiseido)

Shiseido Clear Suncare Stick SPF50+

Reasons to buy

+
Easy to carry 
+
SynchroShield technology that reacts to the sun

Reasons to avoid

-
Very small
-
Invisible

Don’t be fooled by this little stick, it might be tiny but it is mighty and also invisible (yes, really). It’s a clear formula super easy to apply pretty much anywhere, which made it easy for me to reapply. Also, it boasts a SynchroShield™ technology, meaning its ‘protective veil’ becomes even stronger when it detects heat, water or perspiration. The only downside is that because it’s clear I think I reapplied because I was paranoid that I had missed a patch of skin.  

7 of the best mineral sunscreens for dark skin

1.  Inzincable SPF50+ SkincarebyDrV 

SkincarebyDrV Inzincable SPF50

(Image credit: SkincarebyDrV)

SkincarebyDrV Inzincable SPF50

Reasons to buy

+
Mineral SPF designed for people of colour
+
Blue light protection
+
Melashield to help with pigmentation, melasma and acne

Reasons to avoid

-
Zinc based so it might leave behind a slight white cast on some skin tones

I had heard great things about Inzincable, especially as it claimed to be a mineral sunscreen for skin of colour without any cast. So I was excited to try Inzincable out and was happy that the praise was not undeserved. I found that the sunscreen worked into the skin (after a while, it is zinc based after all) and was quite sheer. I love that it has blue light protection and that it was created with skin of colour at the forefront. It also boasts a Melashield ™, which is designed for people with skin of colour, whose primary concern is pigmentation from melasma, sunspots, acne or any scars.  

2. Nudestix Nudescreen Daily Mineral Veil SPF 30

Nudestix Nudescreen Daily Mineral Veil SPF 30

(Image credit: Nudestix)

Nudestix Nudescreen Daily Mineral Veil SPF 30

Reasons to buy

+
Feels like make-up 
+
Four skin tints

Reasons to avoid

-
Shades might not be an exact match for cool undertones

I was immediately won over by this mineral 30 SPF. Due to the four tints that are available, I was able to select one that nearly matched my skin tone and once I worked into the skin it was like I had put on a really lightweight foundation. It felt really nice, just like wearing make-up rather than using a sunscreen. Another win: this mineral sunscreen is free from sulphates, phthalates, gluten, parabens and synthetic fragrances.. It’s a vegan formula with 15% non-nano zinc oxide that contains no chemical sunscreen actives to protect sensitive skin and is 100% reef-safe. The only tiny drawback I can see is that if you have cool or yellowish undertones the tints might be a bit too warm. 

3.  Dr Sam Flawless Gossamer Untinted SPF 50 

Dr Sam Flawless Gossamer Untinted SPF 50

(Image credit: Dr Sam)

Dr Sam Flawless Gossamer Untinted SPF 50

Reasons to buy

+
Hydrating
+
Great base for make-up

Reasons to avoid

-
Untinted so it does leave behind a slight cast 

I have to admit I was a little scared when I tried Dr Sam’s sunscreen because it’s a mineral sunscreen with no tint. But I was pleasantly surprised. I applied the recommended six pumps (yes, ek!) and worked the SPF into my skin. Even the other half thought my skin looked great, so high praise. I have to admit it did take a while but afterwards I was amazed at how hydrating and sheer the product was and also gave me a great base for my make-up.   

4. Bea Skincare Solar Defence SPF 50

Bea Skincare Solar Defence SPF 50

(Image credit: Bea Skincare)

Bea Skincare Solar Defence SPF 50

Reasons to buy

+
Mineral SPF with no cast
+
Skin brightening

Reasons to avoid

-
Small

I was a bit worried when I first applied this sunscreen, but it does absorb into the skin after a little rubbing. Once worked into the skin, my face felt smooth and bright, which is probably the hyaluronic acid and hydrolysed collagen, skin brightening alpha arbutin, and anti-inflammatory properties of the aloe vera and ginseng extract. I was really impressed with it, especially as it contains zinc oxide and titanium dioxide but left no cast. 

5.  iS Clinical PerfecTint Powder SPF40 

iS Clinical PerfecTint Powder SPF40

(Image credit: iS Clincal)

iS Clinical PerfecTint Powder SPF40

Reasons to buy

+
Easy to reapply SPF during the day
+
Powder format

Reasons to avoid

-
Difficult to manage powder flow
-
Powder colours are quite warm

Powder SPF? I’ve always wanted to try a powder SPF as there are so many benefits. The most important but also the most fickle being that you can reapply and not mess up your make-up. iS Clinical’s PerfecTint Powder went on silky smooth and made my skin lovely and matte, not to mention, I could actually reapply my SPF every two hours (as we’re supposed to). The only drawback is that it can be difficult to manage the flow of powder.   

6. Fenty Skin Hydravisor SPF 30 

Fenty Skin Hydra Vizor SPF 30

(Image credit: Fenty)

Fenty Skin Hydra Vizor SPF 30

Reasons to buy

+
No cast
+
Refillable

Reasons to avoid

-
Packaging is a little fiddly

I opened the box to find a sunscreen capsule and dispenser (it’s refillable FYI). I was excited to pump out the SPF, which had a pleasant smell and, to my surprise, was a super pretty pink. It absorbed quickly and was really moisturising. And surprisingly for an SPF that uses zinc oxide, there was no cast or greasiness but we expect nothing less from our girl Riri.  

7.  AlumierMD Sheer Hydration Broad Spectrum SPF 40 (Versatile Tint) 

AlumierMD Sheer Hydration Broad Spectrum SPF 40

(Image credit: Alumier MD)

AlumierMD Sheer Hydration Broad Spectrum SPF 40

Reasons to buy

+
Hydrating 
+
Full of antioxidants

Reasons to avoid

-
Could leave very dark skin tones a little ashy

I love a mineral sunscreen that ticks all the boxes and this SPF by AlumierMD is high on my list. Available in a ‘versatile’ tint this sunscreen works into the skin really well and leaves no cast. Not to mention, this sheer SPF is also full of free-radical-quenching antioxidants, including a stable vitamin C, resveratrol, grape seed extract, and glutathione. 

2 of the best mineral & chemical sunscreens for dark skin

1.  PCA Skin Hydrator Plus Broad Spectrum SPF 30 

PCA Skin Hydrator Plus Broad Spectrum SPF 30

(Image credit: PCA Skin)

PCA Skin Hydrator Plus Broad Spectrum SPF 30