Iron Oxide Sunscreen Proves an Effective Visible Light Protectant for Darker Skin Tones

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Photo: Getty Images/Klaus Vedfelt
Over the past year, science has found that visible light—right along with UVA and UVB light from the sun—can have a damaging effect on the skin. That means that to prevent signs of aging and keep skin functioning optimally, indoor light sources require protection the same as outdoor rays do. And good news on that front: New research has identified that iron oxide sunscreen is an effective way to guard from the effects of visible light, particularly in darker skin tones, which seem to be more vulnerable to these wavelengths.

As a refresher, visible light makes up 45-percent of the electromagnetic spectrum, coming from LED light bulbs, fluorescent light, and the light that's emitted from screens. Using Fitzpatrick skin types—a model that identifies the amount of pigment in skin and how it will react to light from the sun or from lasers—researchers found that those with darker complexions, categorized by Fitzpatrick skin types four through six, had excess hyperpigmentation compared to those with Fitzpatrick skin types of one to five.

"Emerging science shows that visible light has the ability to induce immediate pigment darkening with exposure," says Pearl Grimes, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and director of the Vitiligo and Pigmentation Institute of Southern California. "This is an issue in individuals who have darker skin tones in your [Fitzpatrick type] threes to sixes, and it's significantly less of an issue in lighter skin types."

As for how to protect skin from visible light—which, let's be honest, is pretty necessary to go about daily life—a new study published just last month in the Journal of Drugs and Dermatology compared the prevention of hyperpigmentation in Fitzpatrick four types using iron oxide versus SPF 50+ mineral-based sunscreen. To research this, dermatologists asked 40 patients to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen and the other half to try an iron oxide formula. "The iron oxide was able to block out visible light, in contrast to a competitor mineral SPF 50 formulation, which had no ability at all to absorb visible light," says Dr. Grimes.

Experts In This Article

That isn't to say that SPF isn't necessary, too, because it is. While iron oxides are good at protecting against visible light, they don't do much for UV, so you'll want to make sure that you have a product that contains both zinc oxide or titanium dioxide (UV blockers) as well as iron oxides. “Particularly for women of color, we need to be really cognizant of using sunscreens with iron oxides in them," board-certified dermatologist Mona Gohara, MD, previously told Well+Good previously. Keep scrolling for iron oxide sunscreen products with packed this visible light-blocking ingredient.

Shop iron oxide sunscreen

Photo: Dermablend
Dermablend Flawless Creator Liquid Foundation — $40.00

The recent study above used this exact foundation by Dermablend, which was found to effectively combat the effects of pigmentation on darker skin tones. The formula has full coverage that still feels light as it protects and evens out your skin.

Photo: Isdin
Isdinceutics Mineral Brush — $55.00

For skin protection that’s easy to swipe on throughout the day, stick with a powder-based SPF like this one by Isdin. It’s got a blend of mineral filters like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide plus iron oxide that you can dust on mid-day for defense against photo-aging.

Photo: Jane Iredale
Jane Iredale Glow Time — $50.00

For smooth-but-subtle coverage, this BB cream evens out your complexion while giving your skin mineral-based UVA and UVB protection along with iron oxides to combat visible light rays.

Photo: Unsun
Unsun Mineral Tinted Face Sunscreen — $29.00

Sheathe your skin with a subtle, glow-inducing tint. The Unsun mineral-based formula blends seamlessly with your complexion as it provides protection against both the sun’s rays and visible light.

For more must-know tips on sun protection, check out the video below. 

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