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Tinted Sunscreen: What you should know

Find out the facts about tinted sunscreens and how to use them.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 6, 2023 • 10 min read
Medically reviewed by Erin Pate, NP-C
Cream and Tinted Sunscreen with SPF 50
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 6, 2023 • 10 min read
Medically reviewed by Erin Pate, NP-C
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

If you ask any dermatology provider what their best piece of skincare advice would be, many will likely tell you the importance of daily sunscreen. Sun exposure is great for many things, but it can also cause skin cancer, sunburns, dark spots, and more—so proper protection is vital. 

Sunscreen can be found in just about any drugstore, grocery store, or cosmetic store, and it ranges in its forms and SPF coverage. One type of sunscreen that has gained popularity in recent years is tinted sunscreen, a remarkable fusion of skincare and cosmetics. This innovative product combines the benefits of sunscreen protection with the cosmetic advantage of providing light coverage and a subtle tint to the skin. Allow our dermatology pros to explain everything you need to know about it!

What skincare experts want you to know

The primary culprit behind the vast majority of skin cancer cases is exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, estimated to be responsible for 80%–90% of cases. In response to this sobering reality, the use of sunscreen, which effectively blocks harmful UV radiation, has emerged as a crucial preventive measure against skin cancers, sunburns, and premature skin aging. Numerous studies have demonstrated that the regular application of sunscreen significantly reduces the incidence of both melanoma and nonmelanoma skin cancers.¹

Sunscreen is formulated with special ingredients to protect the skin from sun damage. It contains compounds that work by blocking UV radiation including UVA1, UVA2, and UVB. It creates a barrier on your skin that helps to prevent these harmful rays from reaching your skin cells and causing damage.²

Other than lowering your chances of developing skin cancer, sunscreens help to prevent other signs of sun damage, such as wrinkles, telangiectasias or visible blood vessels, and pigmentary alterations or changes in skin color. These studies have consistently shown that regular use of sunscreens can help protect the skin from the harmful effects of ultraviolet radiation.³

Applying sunscreen every day is crucial, even on cloudy days, as up to 80% of harmful UV rays can penetrate through clouds. It should be applied to dry skin 15 minutes before going outdoors, including areas like the tops of the feet, neck, ears, and the top of the head. Reapplication every two hours, or after swimming or sweating, is necessary.⁴

What is sun protection factor (SPF)?

The effectiveness of sunscreen depends on two important factors: Sun Protection Factor (SPF) and substantivity or the ability to continue providing protection even after the sunscreen is removed. SPF specifically measures the level of protection against UVB rays, which are responsible for sunburns. In theory, higher SPF values suggest that a sunscreen offers greater protection against the harmful effects of sunlight compared to lower SPF values.⁵

SPF is determined by calculating the ratio of the amount of UV radiation needed to cause sunburn on protected skin when sunscreen is applied to the amount needed to cause sunburn on the same unprotected skin without sunscreen, assuming all other factors remain constant. This ratio serves as the basis for measuring the SPF value of a sunscreen product.⁶

Choosing the right sunscreen is essential for effective sun protection. The American Academy of Dermatology, made up of board-certified dermatologists, recommends using a broad-spectrum SPF of at least 30.⁷ A broad-spectrum sunscreen offers protection against both UVA and UVB rays. 

It is also recommended to take additional steps to maximize sun protection such as seeking shade during the sun's strongest hours, between 10am–2 pm, wearing sun-protective clothing, such as lightweight, long-sleeved shirts, pants, wide-brimmed hats, and sunglasses with UV protection. It is important to avoid tanning beds, as they can contribute to skin cancer and premature aging. Instead, self-tanning products can be used in combination with sunscreen.⁸

Tinted sunscreen: A multi-purpose hero

Regular sunscreens do not protect against visible light (VL), which can cause redness and skin pigmentation.⁹ However, there are tinted sunscreens available that offer protection specifically against VL and give off a subtle skin tint. These tinted sunscreens contain a combination of iron oxide and titanium dioxide pigments, which work as both VL and UV blockers. The iron oxide pigment can have different colors like yellow, red, or black. Yellow iron oxide, in particular, can protect the skin from VL-induced pigmentation. Tinted sunscreens, by incorporating these pigments, significantly reduce the amount of VL that can penetrate the skin, providing a high level of VL transmission reduction, ranging from 93% to 98%.¹⁰

Tinted sunscreen serves a dual purpose in facial cosmetic products: Firstly, it helps to cover up any existing pigmentary blemishes on the skin, a great option for those with acne-prone skin. Secondly, it helps in reducing the development of more pigmentation caused by sunlight exposure. Foundations come in various shades and tones, as well as in glossy and matte finishes, allowing for personalized and daily protection that goes beyond just blocking UV rays, catering to people with a variety of skin tones and types.¹¹

Foundations that contain iron oxide not only help even out the skin tone and cover any imperfections but have also been shown to provide protection against blue light. Blue light is emitted from electronic devices like smartphones and computers and is known to accelerate the aging process and cause hyperpigmentation.¹² By using these foundations, you can enjoy both the cosmetic benefits of achieving a smoother complexion and the added advantage of shielding your skin from the potential harm caused by blue light.¹³

These products come in various shades and tones, allowing for personalized and daily protection that goes beyond just blocking UV rays, catering to people with different skin types.¹⁴

Remember to choose the right shade according to skin tone. Skin tone refers to the visible color of the skin, ranging from fair, light, medium, to deep. Undertone, on the other hand, refers to the underlying hue that influences the overall appearance of the skin. Undertones can be warm (with yellow or golden hints), cool (with pink or blue hints), or neutral (matching the skin color).¹⁵ 

Unlike skin tones, undertones remain consistent regardless of sun exposure. To achieve a perfect color match, both skin tone and undertone must be taken into account. Although some tinted sunscreens claim to have a "universal tint," they may not be suitable for individuals with very fair or deep skin tones.¹⁶ 

A Man Holding Curology's Sunscreen

Best tinted sunscreen options

Despite the many pigment options of tinted sunscreen available, individuals with darker skin tones face challenges when attempting to find suitable shades. These challenges may be due to an inadequate understanding of dark complexions and undertones, as well as the longstanding absence of representation of a broad range of skin tones in dermatology research journals and textbooks for an extended period.¹⁷ How consumers find their tone can vary. Some companies have a tone match option, where people can enter the type and shade of makeup products they have used that works best for them. Other options may include visiting a cosmetic store to ask a cosmetic professional for assistance. 

Some of the best tinted sunscreen options that offer the ultimate blend of sun protection and beauty include:

Keeping your skin protected and healthy

Sunscreen is widely recognized by skincare experts and dermatology providers as a vital component of daily skincare routines. Its importance lies in protecting the skin from harmful UV radiation, which can lead to skin cancer, sunburns, and dark spots.

Numerous studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of the regular application of sunscreen, such as Curology’s The Sunscreen, in reducing the incidence of both melanoma and nonmelanoma skin cancers. Additionally, sunscreen has been proven to prevent signs of sun-induced skin damage, such as wrinkles, visible blood vessels, and changes in skin color.

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FAQs

What is a good sunscreen with a tint in it?

Although there are several good tinted broad-spectrum protection sunscreen options available, we recommend the Supergoop CC Screen 100% Mineral CC Creamcream SPF 50, which is designed for all skin types.

Which sunscreen is best tinted or normal?

Broad-spectrum coverage sunscreen, tinted or not, is an important part of any beauty routine as it is a preventive measure against skin cancers, sunburns, and premature skin aging. So, both will protect the skin from UV radiation.¹⁸ If you're looking for the added benefit of some light coverage and even skin tone, tinted sunscreen may be the better choice.

What order should I apply my skincare products in?

Following the cleansing of the face and application of moisturizer, if desired, sunscreen should be applied to dry skin. If applicable, medications should be applied before any sunscreen. If desired, makeup can be applied as the final step.

To ensure proper application, sunscreen should be applied to the cheeks, nose, forehead, and chin. Gently massaging the sunscreen into the skin will ensure even coverage, effectively masking skin discoloration, and blending seamlessly with the natural hue of the skin.¹⁹

Does tinted sunscreen look like makeup?

Yes. Tinted sunscreen does look like makeup as it contains iron oxide which helps to cover up any existing pigmentary blemishes on the skin and helps with uneven skin tone.²⁰ It can be a suitable addition to most makeup routines as there are options available for lightweight coverage, medium coverage, and buildable coverage.

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don't have to: 

  1. Sander, M., et al. The efficacy and safety of sunscreen use for the prevention of skin cancer. Canadian Medical Association Journal. (2020, December 14).

  2. Sander, M., et al. The efficacy and safety of sunscreen use for the prevention of skin cancer. Canadian Medical Association Journal. Ibid.

  3. Sander, M., et al. The efficacy and safety of sunscreen use for the prevention of skin cancer. Canadian Medical Association Journal. Ibid.

  4. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Sunscreen FAQs. (2023, February 17).

  5. Latha, M.S., et al. Sunscreening Agents. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. (January 2013).

  6. Latha, M.S., et al. Sunscreening Agents. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. Ibid.

  7. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Sunscreen FAQs. Ibid.

  8. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Sunscreen FAQs. Ibid.

  9. Geisler, N.G., et al. Visible Light Part II. Photoprotection against visible and ultraviolet light. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. (May 2021).

  10. Geisler, N.G., et al. Visible Light Part II. Photoprotection against visible and ultraviolet light. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. Ibid.

  11. Geisler, N.G., et al. Visible Light Part II. Photoprotection against visible and ultraviolet light. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. Ibid.

  12. Kumari, J., et al. The impact of blue light and digital screens on the skin. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology. (2023, January 3).

  13. Geisler, N.G., et al. Visible Light Part II. Photoprotection against visible and ultraviolet light. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. Ibid.

  14. Geisler, N.G., et al. Visible Light Part II. Photoprotection against visible and ultraviolet light. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. Ibid.

  15. Torres, A.E., et al. Practical guide to tinted sunscreens. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. (2021, December 30).

  16. Torres, A.E., et al. Practical guide to tinted sunscreens. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. Ibid. 

  17. De La Garza, H., et al. Tinted Sunscreens: Consumer Preferences Based on Light, Medium, and Dark Skin Tones. Cutis. (April 2022). 

  18. Sander, M., et al. The efficacy and safety of sunscreen use for the prevention of skin cancer. Canadian Medical Association Journal. Ibid.

  19. Torres, A.E., et al. Practical guide to tinted sunscreens. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. Ibid. 

  20. Geisler, N.G., et al. Visible Light Part II. Photoprotection against visible and ultraviolet light. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. Ibid.

Erin Pate is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner at Curology. She earned her Masters of Science in Nursing at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, FL.

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• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Our policy on product links:Empowering you with knowledge is our top priority. Our reviews of other brands’ products in this post are not paid endorsements—but they do meet our medically fact-checked standards for ingredients (at the time of publication).
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Erin Pate Nurse Practitioner, NP-C

Erin Pate, NP-C

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