In the vast world of skin care woes, melasma is a particularly ruthless struggle. These pesky dark patches are not only only desperately tricky to treat but they are also a bit of mystery even within the dermatology world. “The exact mechanism is unknown but we are aware of a genetic component,” New York-based dermatologist Dr. Diane Madfes previously told TZR, adding that melasma has been linked to both sun exposure and estrogen. That’s why I always keep my beauty cabinet stocked with products that can help prevent new melasma patches from forming, starting first and foremost with mineral sunscreen.
If you’re lucky enough to not deal with this type of dark spot, allow me to shed some light on the issue. As someone who currently has a Mirena IUD (which pumps my body full of a synthetic hormone called levonorgestrel to mimic progestogen) and who, you know, lives on planet Earth and is therefore exposed to sunshine daily, I am a prime candidate for developing melasma. And boy have I. Ever since I switched to this birth control method six years ago — and subsequently dealt with various hormonal issues — I’ve tried everything to minimize the dark patches under my eyes, cheeks, and upper lip (a placement that I prefer to call a “sun ‘stache”).
Since sun exposure can activate melasma, you would assume that you could simply slather on your favorite SPF and go about your business (after applying products that contain vitamin C, tranexamic acid, and other melasma fighting ingredients). But when has anything in skin care ever been that simple? As board-certified dermatologist Dr. Dendy Engleman reveals, “Chemical sunscreen does not protect against melasma — and, in fact, can actually worsen melasma — because it requires the sun’s rays to be absorbed into [the] skin first before chemically converting them into heat and releasing them.”
And — surprise — melasma is activated by heat, not just UV rays, so a mineral sunscreen is necessary to stop melasma in its tracks. This is because a physical SPF (meaning it contains zinc or titanium dioxide) effectively “blocks” the sun’s rays, bouncing them off your skin rather than absorbing them like a chemical formula.
Like I said, melasma is a stealthy foe.
“Chemical sunscreen does not protect against melasma — and, in fact, can actually worsen melasma — because it requires the sun’s rays to be absorbed into [the] skin first before chemically converting them into heat and releasing them.”
So, in the six years since my dark patches have become an unwelcome and reoccurring skin care issue, I’ve amassed a lineup of mineral sunscreens to help prevent them — especially in the summer when there’s more sun and heat. But I’m always on the lookout for a new physical SPF to try, and happily, 2022 seems to be the year that brands have woken up to our cries for more options that not only protect against melasma, but also feel good on the skin, don’t leave a white cast, and wear better under makeup (all common reasons people forgo this type of SPF in lieu of a chemical formula).
And while it’s wise to use a mineral sunscreen all over if you experience melasma, there is no direct correlation between sun exposure on the body triggering melasma on the face according to Dr. Joshua Zeichner, Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research at Mount Sinai Hospital, adding that “you need the direct exposure to the area where you have the melasma for those melanocytes to become activated.”
So if you’re also on the hunt for a mineral sunscreen that checks all of your skin care boxes, check out six of my favorite new formulas on the market right now.
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