Tinted sunscreens: Benefits beyond an attractive glow

Tinted sunscreens are having a moment. These mineral-based sunscreen formulations have an added color base that can help even out skin tone while protecting your skin. And thanks to their ability to block visible light, they may help certain skin conditions. Could the days of unsightly sunscreen residue be in your past?

What is visible light, and how can it affect your skin?

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation and visible light are both part of the electromagnetic spectrum. UV radiation is composed of three different wavelengths: UVA, UVB, and UVC. UVC is mostly absorbed by the ozone layer, so UVA and UVB are the primary wavelengths that penetrate the skin’s surface. The harmful effects of UV light on the skin have been well documented. UVA is primarily responsible for premature skin aging, and UVB has been implicated in sunburns and skin cancer. The primary source of UV radiation is sunlight.

Visible light is also emitted by the sun. It is the portion of the electromagnetic spectrum that can be perceived by the human eye. Visible light may also come from artificial sources, including medical devices, screens, and light bulbs. Visible light has several skin-related therapeutic uses at specific wavelengths, including treatment of superficial blood vessels, removing unwanted hair, and treating acne and precancerous skin lesions.

Visible light penetrates much deeper into the skin than UV radiation, and can also have negative consequences for your skin. For example, visible light has been implicated in exacerbating disorders of excess skin pigmentation, including melasma and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (dark spots). One study showed that visible light caused more noticeable, persistent hyperpigmentation that UVA alone, especially in people with deep skin tones. This may be especially true for blue light (the kind emitted by device screens), which seems to promote pigment production more than other wavelengths of the visible light spectrum.

Components of tinted sunscreens

Broad-spectrum, non-tinted sunscreens contain filters that block UVA and UVB, but these preparations are not designed to block visible light. To block visible light, a sunscreen must be visible on skin. The problem? The particles in broad-spectrum, non-tinted sunscreens are “nanosized” (made smaller) to help reduce the white appearance of sunscreen. Thus, non-tinted sunscreens are formulated to be invisible on skin, and therefore cannot block visible light.

Tinted sunscreens combine broad-spectrum mineral UV filters, like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, with added pigments — pigmentary titanium dioxides and iron oxides — that create the visible, skin-tone color that can reflect away visible light. The colored base of tinted sunscreens is created by mixing different amounts of black, red, and yellow iron oxides with pigmentary titanium dioxide, resulting in a tinted sunscreen that can be matched to any skin tone.

While these pigments are considered inactive, there have been two reports of allergic reactions to iron oxides contained in mascara products. Otherwise, these ingredients appear to be well tolerated.

Tinted sunscreens may help certain skin conditions

Tinted sunscreens can provide anyone an instant, skin-evening glow, while simultaneously helping to protect your skin from both sunlight and artificial light.

Growing evidence suggests that tinted sunscreens may be particularly important for people who are prone to hyperpigmentation or melasma. That’s due to their ability to block visible light, which is known to exacerbate these conditions. Tinted sunscreens have been found to reduce relapses of melasma more than non-tinted, broad-spectrum sunscreens. Tinted sunscreens have also been shown to reduce hyperpigmentation, both on the skin surface and under a microscope. Iron oxide, in particular, appears to be particularly effective at blocking blue light.

What should I look for in a tinted sunscreen?

Choosing a broad-spectrum, tinted sunscreen may help prevent age-related skin damage (thanks to UVA filters), may help to prevent cancer-inducing skin changes (thanks to UVB filters), and may help protect against excess pigmentation (thanks to the color base that blocks visible light).

Tinted sunscreens are now widely available to purchase online or in retail stores. If you are prone to hyperpigmentation or melasma, choose a tinted sunscreen that contains iron oxide (you’ll see it on the ingredient list).

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Related Information: Skin Care and Repair


  1. kemi

    Would not mind some recommendations. Thanks

  2. Weena Pradhan


    Thank you for the information in this blog. So, my question is , can we use the tinted and non tinted together ?

    Weena Pradhan

  3. Carol Slocum

    Can you give us some recommendations for tinted sunscreen?Thanks

  4. Christine Head

    I have two different tinted sunscreens that contain zinc oxide, will they work as well as the tinted sunscreen with iron oxide

  5. Annalisa

    Awesome article!!! It answers my questions about tinted sunscreens which I thought was all hipe for a tan. I am prone to hyperpigmentation and melasma so now I feel safe and comfortable to try the tinted sunscreens with iron oxide. Brilliant! Thank you!

  6. Harley Wood

    As a 75 year old fair skinned male dealing with the effects of sun I’m looking for the best film I can use in a vehicle to protect me. I’m treated on and off and I would like to help my cause in not my problem worse than it needs to be. A vehicle is not a good place to be for people like me.

    I would like protection for my skin but also tinting that keeps the vehicle cooler in the summer. In NJ that would mean a fairly dark tint but not extreme.

    It doesn’t make sense to depend on a vendor to be my best source.

    Any chance someone could reply directly?


  7. Christine Zikowitz

    I heard that some sunscreens aren’t good for you is that true? Isn’t it better to wear sunscreen than not wear it at all. I heard we all need the sun to survive how long is a good time to be outdoors to get the benefits without being out there too long. Is there a certain time of day that is best to be outdoors to get benefits from the sun?

    • SurferJoe


      I actually like the white zinc oxide on my face just because its easily visible for spoting unprotected areas.

      With Pigments, I find it MUCH harder to identify areas on the skin that are unprotected unless spending a significant amount of time.

      Which ruins the whole point of having fun in the sun doesn’t it? Spend more time applying sunscreen instead of whatever activity you choose 😀

    • Mali

      You can check the EPA EWG database to see sunscreens ranked for toxicity.
      The best time to get some sun is early morning. Avoid direct sun exposure 11am to 3pm .

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