Tinted sunscreens: Benefits beyond an attractive glow – Harvard Health Blog
Tinted sunscreens have a moment. These mineral sunscreen formulations have an added color base that can help even out the complexion while protecting your skin. And thanks to their ability to block visible light, they can 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?
Both ultraviolet (UV) radiation and visible light are part of the electromagnetic spectrum. UV radiation is made up of three different wavelengths: UVA, UVB and UVC. UVC is mainly absorbed by the ozone layer, UVA and UVB are therefore the main wavelengths that penetrate the surface of the skin. The harmful effects of UV light on the skin have been well documented. UVA rays are mainly responsible for premature aging of the skin and UVB rays have been implicated in sunburn and skin cancer. The main source of UV radiation is sunlight.
Visible light is also emitted by the sun. It is the part of the electromagnetic spectrum that can be perceived by the human eye. Visible light can also come from artificial sources, including medical devices, screens and light bulbs. Visible light has several therapeutic uses related to the skin at specific wavelengths, including the treatment of superficial blood vessels, the removal of unwanted hair, and the treatment of 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 worsening disorders of excessive pigmentation of the skin, including melasma and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (brown spots). One study has shown that visible light causes more noticeable and persistent hyperpigmentation than UVA alone, especially in people with deep skin. This may be particularly true for blue light (that emitted by the screens of devices), which seems to favor the production of pigments more than the other wavelengths of the visible light spectrum.
Components of tinted sunscreens
Untinted broad spectrum sunscreens contain filters that block UVA and UVB rays, but these preparations are not designed to block visible light. To block visible light, a sunscreen must be visible on the skin. The problem? Particles from broad spectrum tinted sunscreens are “nanosize” (smaller) to help reduce the white appearance of the sunscreen. Thus, untinted sunscreens are formulated to be invisible on the skin and therefore cannot block visible light.
Tinted sunscreens combine broad spectrum mineral UV filters, such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, with added pigments – pigmentary titanium dioxides and iron oxides – which create the visible complexion color that can reflect visible light. The colored base of tinted sunscreens is created by mixing different amounts of black, red and yellow iron oxides with pigmented titanium dioxide, resulting in a tinted sunscreen that can be matched with any skin tone.
Although these pigments are considered inactive, two cases of allergic reactions to iron oxides contained in mascara products have been reported. Otherwise, these ingredients seem to be well tolerated.
Tinted sunscreens can help with certain skin conditions
Tinted sunscreens can give everyone an instant glow, while helping protect your skin from the sun and artificial light.
There is growing evidence to suggest that tinted sunscreens may be particularly important for people prone to hyperpigmentation or melasma. This is due to their ability to block visible light, which is known to exacerbate these conditions. Tinted sunscreens have been found to reduce relapse of melasma more than broad spectrum untinted sunscreens. Tinted sunscreens have also been shown to reduce hyperpigmentation, both on the surface of the skin and under the 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 can help prevent age-related skin damage (thanks to UVA filters), can help prevent cancer-causing skin changes (thanks to UVB filters) and can help protect against excessive pigmentation (thanks to the color base which blocks visible light).
Tinted sunscreens are now widely available for purchase online or in retail stores. If you’re 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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