Everyone deserves to be protected from UVA and UVB rays. Yet if you’re of a darker skin tone, finding your dream SPF in Singapore—water and heat-resistant with the perfect finish, non-comedogenic formula, high UV protection and at a fair price—can feel like finally having swiped on your soul mate on Bumble. As anyone who has ever experienced the sheer frustration of finding the perfect sunscreen will tell you: you’ll likely go through several duds before you find your skin hero.
Today’s disappointing offering of sunscreens for people with darker skin tones has meant that anyone on the spectrum from a tan olive to rich Brown or Black gets the short end of the stick where UVA and UVB protection is concerned. Dermatologist and aesthetic medicine pioneer, Dr Komathy Rajaratnam of The Lifestyle Clinic shares that, “there has been a huge lack of adequate sunscreens for people of darker skin tones.”
Why regular sunscreens won’t cut it if you’re of a darker skin tone
“The problem is that physical sunscreens that contain say zinc oxide, giving darker skin an unflattering whitish to greyish hue,” says Dr Rajaratnam. Zinc oxide and mineral oxide form a protective barrier over skin that UV rays literally bounce off. While considered broad spectrum physical sunscreens, they unfortunately leave a white cast on the skin which translates to sallowness in deeper skin tones.
Zinc oxide is “important in giving adequate protection especially with pigmentary skin disorders, gives darker skin an unflattering whitish to greyish hue,” says Dr Rajaratnam, whose clinic sees many patients with darker skin tones that also have pigmentary disorders, “or are doing procedures like chemical peels or laser treatments and require to have sun protection sunblock that protects and at same time blends in well no matter the skin colour.”
“I think sunscreen is still after-thought,” shares Faz Gaffa, founder of My Safe Sphere. “Unless they’re mums who slather it on their kids and themselves or people who are diligently applying, there’s the other spectrum who just don’t care because they don’t burn. “Oh, I’m just going to the mall, I don’t need sunscreen.”
Her gripe echoes that of Dr Rajaratnam’s: “A lot of sunscreens that are marketed to work on all skin tones don’t work. I still get a white cast from many and it’s unfortunate. I use chemical sunscreens a lot, but the recent FDA finding that six chemical sunscreen actives enter the bloodstream even after a single application and can remain in the body for extended periods of time, is very very worrying.”
What types of UV-damage are darker skin tones likely to experience?
“Darker toned skin has more melanin in the skin, which is why the skin is darker in colour,” explains Dr Rajaratnam. “People with darker skin tones tend to suffer from uneven skin tone and hyperpigmentation usually over the lateral forehead and cheeks and/or around the mouth. Tendency towards hyper-pigmentation increases if they are under-going aesthetic procedures such as chemical peel, laser treatments or using skin products such as retinol, AHA or BHA that make the skin sensitive to sunlight. The skin then becomes irritated by sunlight and as a result, the body to protect the skin puts out more melanin and the skin gets even darker. Sunscreen can minimise incidences of uneven skin tone and hyperpigmentation.”
In her book Palette, British Vogue beauty editor, Funmi Fetto declares, “No more excuses: get a sunscreen and use it regularly, because dark skins do burn and not just on the beach.”
“Melasma is the most common UV-related skin disorder,” says Dr Rajaratnam. “It affects women aged 40 onwards and worsens when they hit perimenopause and menopause. Some oral contraceptives can cause hyperpigmentation in younger women when exposed to sunlight. Eczema or dermatitis affecting face and neck needs to be protected with sunblock to prevent darkening. Acne breakouts need sunscreen so that on healing the acne hyper-pigmented scars are minimised.”
TL;DR? It’s still every bit as important to wear SPF sunscreen if you have a deep or dark skin tone.
Chemical sunscreens vs physical sunscreens: what’s the difference?
Physical sunscreens “tend to have an opaque and more whitish appearance,” says Dr Rajaratam, who says to look out for the ingredient list which “commonly includes titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.” The pros of physical sunscreens are that they, “tend to be less irritating to sensitive skin.” Their cons, according to Dr Rajaratnam, include “a ghost-like appearance, can be easily rubbed off, and have a thick consistency that’s not ideal for oily or acne-prone skin.”
Chemical sunscreens on the other hand are, “lighter in texture and more transparent and does not give ghost-like appearance.” According to Dr Rajaratnam, “the cons of chemical sunscreens are that they offer better protection against UVA and UVB rays, all without the white cast.” The major drawback of chemical sunscreens however, is that they may cause irritation “especially in sensitive skin who may be sensitive to the chemicals in the sunscreen.”
These days however, the most ideal sunscreens, “are a combination of both physical and chemical.”
What to look for in a sunscreen if you are of a deep or dark skin tone?
“SPF ideally should be between 30 to 50 to protect against UVA, UVB, blue HEV light, infrared radiation and pollution,” lists Dr Rajaratnam. “I love latest sunscreen from Colorescience” which has three shades for fair, medium, and dark skin tones. “What I like best about it is that it not only protects the skin from all that I mentioned, it hydrates the skin, giving it colour and a beautiful sheen so the skin looks radiant and dewy. And there is no need for foundation for those who seek minimal make up.”
She also recommends looking for a sunscreen with blue light protection, as “blue light damage manifests with a tendency towards hyperpigmentation. If there is already a pigmentation issue, then blue light will aggravate or hamper treatments.”
Dr Rajaratnam also counts Colorescience’s Total Eye, a three-in-one eye cream that offers SPF 35 protection as a favourite. It “brightens and corrects the dark circles, giving a refreshed appearance while improving fine lines. Not many sunscreens available for the eye area and can be used on any skin tone.”
Taking matters into their own hands, Dr Rajaratnam says: “We had to source out a sunblock that was ideal for darker skin tone. At the clinic, we have created a sunblock that protects, and at same time blends in well no matter the skin colour.”
“I recently discovered EleVen by Venus Williams On-the-Defense Sunscreen SPF 30. It really doesn’t leave a white cast and it’s a nice, semi-matte formula. It’s a mineral sunscreen (yay!) but my only problem with it is that it’s an SPF 30 only,” shares Gaffa.
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Shiseido BB For Sports SPF 50+ PA+++ Tinted Sunscreen
Imagine a non-sticky BB sun protector that not only marries the best of make-up (offering a contoured look) with sun protection, it contains WetForce technology to rapidly dry sweat and even reacts with water to boost UV protection when wet. It’s cooling to the skin, blends in like a dream, and doesn’t ruin your make-up even after sweating. The science in this tiny skin saviour is pretty impressive, Shiseido called on Quick Dry tech inspired by a textile company, to prevent sticky skin and other heat-induced meltdowns, meaning your perspiration evaporates faster but not at the expense of your make-up. Impressively, Shiseido included a Profence CL complex, to inhibit enzyme activity to counteract the causes of wrinkles and dark spots. Mind blown yet?
Chandreyee Rey, Vogue Singapore writer enjoys its lightweight, skin-like coverage, as it evens out the skin tone and texture. “I would swap my foundation out for this on most days.”
“I was insanely surprised at how this is so easy to apply—better than a lot of tinted moisturisers—and also has SPF50 protection? Magical,” shares Vogue Singapore’s marketing director, Natasha Damodaran. “It’s super lightweight, and blends in easily without any grease but the best part of this was how it evens out my skin tone and sticks through the day without it creasing or running all over the place. I am totally adding this to my routine from here on out.”
Shiseido BB For Sports SPF 50+ PA+++ Tinted Sunscreen, $55 for 30ml; available at Sephora
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Sisley Super Soin Solaire Youth Protector Face SPF 50+
“Unless you are drunk or feeling particularly generous because you have suddenly come into money, this is the sunscreen that you should probably never share,” says British Vogue‘s Funmi Fetto in Palette: The Beauty Bible for Women of Colour. Hailed as the crème de la crème of sunscreens, Fetto calls out its ‘sublime’ texture and formula that guards against oxidative stress which triggers photoageing, including “wrinkles, hyperpigmentation and dehydration”. Infused with botanical extracts of edelweiss, camellia oil and mango with shea butter, it hydrates and offers supple, comforted skin but not at the expense of clogged pores or an unslightly white or grey cast. And as any Sisley buff can appreciate, it’s the sage and marjoram scent which seals the deal, making this final, essential skin step a pleasurable one.
Damodaran says it’s “super smooth and easy to apply without any of the residue that sunscreen’s usually come with. It didn’t leave a shiny finish, although it was a bit sticky in our humidity, so I had to wait a bit longer before applying my make-up.”
Sisley Super Soin Solaire Youth Protector Face SPF 50, $210 for 40ml; available at Robinsons
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Klairs Soft Airy UV Essence
Describing this as a ‘sensorial winner’, Rey has been using this both barefaced and under her daily foundation. It has a “super cooling and luxe feeling on the skin without the white cast. It adds a nice glow to my face without any trace of oil or grease and feels like skincare.” High praise indeed.
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It Cosmetics Your Skin but Better CC Cream SPF 50+
Whether you have a streamlined approach to beauty or want to look effortlessly radiant without the weight of multiple make-up steps, this CC cream-meets-sunscreen is for you. Knowing that it was still vital to wear SPF indoors but not wanting to commit to a full face of foundation every day, we bought this best-seller during lockdown, and are happy to report it hides dark spots like a concealer, minimises the look of pores like a primer, hydrates like a moisturiser, and delivers flawless complexion like a foundation—even for sensitive skin types.
“This did not feel like a sunscreen at all,” muses Damodaran. “It definitely felt more like a foundation as the colour was highly pigmented and the cream appears to be more full-coverage.” Damodaran found that she had to invest a bit more time blending the shade over her face.
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Nexultra UV SPF50 Mineral Sunscreen
Sun protection in the form of a handy brush, push the pen device twice to release the translucent, photo-protective mineral powder from the brush and sweep across your face, neck, and hands. It’s great for when you need to reapply your sunscreen while also mattifying and touching up the t-zone. Despite containing a mineral zinc oxide, its invisible powder forms a physical shield to reflect UV rays and offers a high resistance to water, without leaving white streaks on the skin. And being a mineral sunscreen, it’s also suitable for sensitive skin types.
Universkin Nexultra UV SPF50 Mineral Sunscreen, $98; available at Acclaro Clinic
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L'Oreal Paris UV Perfect Matte and Fresh SPF 50 PA++++
A new addition to L’Oreal‘s family of anti-ageing UV Perfect sunscreens, Matte and Fresh provides UVA and UVB protection through and is the first oil-free sunscreen formulated especially for South Asia—which accounts for its proven ability to resist up to 45°C and 80 per cent humidity, anti-pollution and dust. The sunscreen dries invisible and shields the skin against damaging rays with patented Mexoryl broad filters and kaolin clay for that anti-shine effect.
“Applying this felt like your usual moisturiser, although it does have that familiar sunscreen smell,” shares Damodaran. “It definitely leaves your skin feeling well-moisturised well with no shiny or white residue. Putting my make-up on after was also easy and drama-free.”