May 12, 2022

Tinted Sunscreen Options Shown to Be Incompatible With Darker Skin Tones

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Even for products with multiple shades, researchers find lack of shade diversity.

The Bottom Line

When choosing tinted sunscreens (TS), consumers cite cosmetic elegance and tone compatibility among their most important criteria. Physicians should consider skin tone when making sunscreen recommendations for individuals to improve adherence and protect against harmful visible light.


Tinted sunscreens provide consumers with protection not only from ultraviolet (UV) light, but also from visible light (VL), which can also damage the skin. Visible light is emitted not only from the sun, but also from artificial light sources including light bulbs and digital screens. Studies have shown that even short periods of exposure to light from electronic devices may cause reactive oxygen species generation, collagen degradation, apoptosis, and necrosis of skin cells. In addition, VL may increase tyrosinase activity and induce long-lasting pigmentation in dark-skinned individuals and immediate erythema in light-skinned individuals.

Tinted sunscreens combine UV and VL filters. They may help reduce hyperpigmentation and reduce relapses of melasma. They are formulated with iron oxides or pigmentary titanium dioxide that provide an effective, safe, and convenient way to protect skin against both UV and VL. For this reason, tinted sunscreens have recently gained in popularity and are increasingly incorporated into makeup, moisturizers, and other skin care products, making them easy and convenient to use.

However, a lack of tinted sunscreen options for darker skin tones may discourage many people from using them. An analysis of consumer preferences of over-the-counter products found that 62 percent of tinted sunscreen products are only available in one shade.

Study Objective

Investigate the factors that influence consumer preference when choosing tinted sunscreen depending on underlying skin tone.

The Details

Researchers collected descriptive data and measured consumer preferences among 58 tinted sunscreen products sold by a top online supplier. The top 10 positive and negative reviews for each sunscreen were analyzed and coded in five major categories: cosmetic elegance, performance, skin compatibility and tolerance, tone compatibility, and affordability.


Of the 58 tinted sunscreens evaluated, 62% only offered one shade. Even for products with multiple shades, researchers found a lack of shade diversity, especially for darker skin tones. In this cohort, color compatibility was the most commonly cited negative feature and 89% of these comments were from consumers with dark skin tones. This is of particular concern, as tinted sunscreens have been shown to protect against dermatoses such as melasma and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation that disproportionally affect individuals with skin of color. Patients with dermatoses aggravated or induced by VL may seek photoprotection provided by tinted sunscreens, but find the lack of matching shades unappealing. The dearth of shade diversity in TSs can lead to inequities and disproportionally affect those with darker skin.

Cosmetic elegance was the most cited positive feature associated with tinted sunscreen products (61%), followed by product performance (19%), skin compatibility and tolerance (13%), tone compatibility (13%), and affordability (8%). When negative features were cited, consumers mostly noted tone incompatibility (32%) and cosmetic elegance concerns (28%).

Pull Quote

The results of this study show that the beauty industry and the dermatologic field must work to deliver culturally sensitive care by being more knowledgeable about darker skin tones and offering more options for tinted sunscreen formulations tailored to people with skin of color.


De La Garza H, Visutjindaporn P, Maymone M, Vashi NA (2022): Tinted Sunscreens: Consumer Preferences Based on Light, Medium, and Dark Skin Tones. Cutis

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About the Author

Elli Greenlaw

Elli Greenlaw is co-founder of Felix, a healthcare content agency based in Boston. She’s been writing about health and healthcare for more than 20 years.

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