How does sunscreen help with hyperpigmentation and melasma?

How does sunscreen help with hyperpigmentation and melasma?

Melasma and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) are exacerbated by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays and visible light, making sunscreen an essential component of treatment.

Summary

  • UV radiation is the key trigger for melasma and hyperpigmentation
  • Sunscreens are fundamental to managing melasma and hyperpigmentation
  • If light is visible, you're exposed to the sun
  • Begin with daily application of SPF 50+
  • One 50 ml bottle should last you 2–3 weeks
  • Reapply in the afternoon, regardless of sun exposure
  • The chances of improving melasma are ZERO if you do not get sun protection

"But I don't go outside!"

Think again. Unless you're living in complete isolation or are incarcerated, chances are you do step outside - whether it's for errands, walking the dog, short drives, or even just hanging laundry, you're outdoors more than you realize.

Seeing natural light? That means you're getting incidental UV and visible light exposure. While this might be okay for most people, for those dealing with melasma and hyperpigmentation, even the slightest exposure to natural light can kickstart pigment production.

Establishing a strong sunscreen routine is crucial for seeing any improvement.

Why should I reapply in the afternoon if I don’t go outside?

The simple reason? Better safe than sorry. With melasma, even if you're doing everything right 95% of the time, a tiny slip-up can negate a month's progress in mere minutes.

Regularly reapplying sunscreen acts as a safety net for those inevitable 'oops' moments. Think of it as preventive care for the unexpected, because you can't always foresee when incidental UV exposure will happen during your daily routine. Whether it's a spontaneous drive or a quick step outside, being prepared with sunscreen can make all the difference.
If you don’t like to reapply lotion over your makeup, use an aerosol sunscreen spray or a powder sunscreen.

What sunscreen is the best?

The short answer — it doesn't matter, especially in the grand scheme of managing melasma and pigmentation. What's crucial is using sunscreen with a high SPF of 50+.

Discussions around which sunscreen offers better UVA protection, concerns about nanoparticles, or environmental impact pale in comparison to the primary goal of managing your condition. It's how much and how often you apply sunscreen that truly counts.

Once you've nailed this essential step, you can then delve into the more nuanced aspects of sunscreen selection.

When choosing a sunscreen that suits your skin type, keep the following checklist in mind:

  • Build a routine for daily protection, rain or shine, summer or winter. Opt for a daily facial sunscreen that meets your specific requirements, not just one reserved for days at the beach.
  • Keep two types of sunscreen on hand: one for daily use and another designed for playing sports or aquatic activities. Your "active" sunscreen needs to be water-resistant, offering protection for at least 2 hours, ideally 4. Brands like dermalogica protection 50 sport spf50, SkinCeuticals Sheer mineral UV defence sunscreen SPF 50 provide reliable choices.
  • Reapplication is necessary; morning application alone might not offer enough protection, particularly during prolonged outdoor exposure.
  • Skin colour considerations: sunscreen is essential for everyone, even if you don't typically burn. It protects your skin's deeper layers and collagen. Using a sunscreen with a high SPF is vital to prevent pigmentation issues such as melasma and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, regardless of skin tone.

How much sunscreen should I use on my face?

The reality is that 95% of people don't apply enough sunscreen.

SPF effectiveness is based on applying 2mg of product per square cm of skin, which means you'd need about 3.5 to 4.5 ml (two fingers length) of sunscreen to cover the face and neck area adequately. 

Reducing this amount by half effectively reduces the SPF by half. One 50 ml bottle should last you 2-3 weeks.

Substitute the daily sunscreen for an activity sunscreen if you garden, exercise or sweat outside.

For conditions like melasma or similar pigmentation problems, applying sunscreen at least twice a day is non-negotiable.

Buy the sunscreen that you like & can afford.

    Mineral or chemical sunscreen: which should I choose?

    What Is Mineral Sunscreen?

    Also commonly referred to as physical sunscreen, mineral sunscreen uses UV filters that sit on top of the skin, effectively blocking rays from penetrating the skin’s surface. The most common mineral filters are titanium dioxide, iron oxide and zinc oxide. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a mineral sunscreen (instead of a chemical sunscreen) if you have sensitive or acne-prone skin.

    Pros: 

    • Safe for sensitive skin: The active ingredients in mineral formulas— zinc oxide or titanium dioxide—are typically well-tolerated by sensitive skin types.
    • Suited for acne-prone skin: Mineral formulas tend to also be non-comedogenic and non-inflammatory for those with acne-prone skin. And if zinc oxide is the active ingredient, it may even help to improve your acne.
    • Potentially more effective sun protection: Because mineral formulas provide a physical barrier preventing the sun's rays from penetrating your skin, some dermatologists consider them more effective than chemical sunscreens. However, more research is needed to confirm this sentiment.

    Cons:

    • Undesirable texture: Mineral sunscreens are often associated with a thick, gloopy texture that isn't always enjoyable to wear—especially under makeup.
    • Can leave a white cast: Physical formulas have been known to leave a white cast on the skin, especially for those with deeper skin tones.  There are now many brands making physical sunscreens that are easy to apply and look great.

    What Is Chemical Sunscreen?

    Chemical SPFs use approved UV filters that transform UV rays when absorbed into the skin, into heat.

    Some of the most common chemical UV filters include oxybenzone, avobenzone, and octinoxate. Chemical sunscreens tend to be lighter, sheerer (some are completely sheer), and generally more favoured by consumers. However, they can also irritate those with sensitive skin and potentially have environmental consequences.

    Pros: 

    • Clear: Chemical sunscreens are typically clear, gel-like formulas that don't leave a white-cast on the skin.
    • Spreadable and enjoyable to wear: There have been more innovations in chemical sunscreens than in physical sunscreens. Chemical sunscreens typically feature a lightweight, gel-like or spray-on texture that's easy to blend and enjoyable to wear with or without makeup.

    Cons:

    • May be slightly less effective than mineral formulas: Because chemical sunscreens function by absorbing the sun's rays instead of physically blocking them, they are considered by some dermatologists to be slightly less effective. However, the most effective sunscreen is the one you will actually wear.
    • May have adverse environmental effects: Ingredients commonly found in chemical formulas—such as oxybenzone—are not considered reef-safe in some states.

    Hybrid sunscreens, incorporating both physical and chemical blockers, are prevalent in contemporary formulations. Many dermatologists recommend these hybrids, particularly for individuals with highly sensitive skin conditions like rosacea, dermatitis, or eczema.

    Top dermatologists' favourites: melan 130, Clinique mineral sunscreen fluidBlack Girl Sunscreen

    Final thoughts

    The treatment of melasma is complex; there are numerous creams, depigmenting agents, and procedures available, but without consistent use of SPF, these strategies will not yield results.

    Don't let your efforts go to waste!