Does Sunscreen Make Your Skin Lighter? Here’s What You Need to Know

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It’s no secret that sunscreen needs to be worn daily in order to keep your skin at its healthiest, yet so many of us still fail to do this. Why? Mostly because applying, and then regularly reapplying, sunscreen each day can feel like a bit of a tedious chore.

However, if the thought of premature wrinkles, and even skin cancer, hasn’t yet convinced you to religiously slather on the SPF, perhaps the idea of lighter and brighter skin might do the trick.

How exactly does sunscreen contribute to lighter skin, and is this must-use product actually capable of fading dark spots and other forms of hyperpigmentation? Let’s find out!

What is sunscreen?

Sunscreen is a product designed to protect the skin from harmful UV rays by either absorbing or reflecting UV light from our skin. Two types of UV rays have been found to cause damage to the skin;


These are the most known UV rays. They have short wavelengths and are responsible for sunburns and skin cancer.


These are more recently discovered UV rays that have longer wavelengths and penetrate deeper into the skin. Although UVA rays are hailed for facilitating summer tanning, they can also cause premature aging of the skin and damage to DNA leading to cancer.

What are the benefits of using sunscreen?

Protects skin from harmful UV rays

While Vitamin D is essential for normal body function, standing in the sun long enough to reap the benefits of its rays can be harmful to unprotected skin. Wearing sunscreen helps protect your skin from harmful UV rays while allowing you to enjoy the benefits of a day outside.

Prevents premature aging

UVA rays from the sun penetrate the dermis of the skin and change the skin’s wrinkle formation process. This can cause the skin to age prematurely. Using sunscreen with a broad spectrum keeps your skin looking young and plump.

Reduces the risk of skin cancer

The number one cause of skin cancer is exposure to harmful UV rays. Wearing sunscreen helps you reduce your exposure to these rays bringing down your chances of suffering from melanoma.

Helps keep the skin even

Hyperpigmentation is often a result of sun damage, wearing sunscreen help block UV rays from hitting your skin and triggering melanin production which eventually evens and brightens your skin.

It is good for healthy skin

Skincare products often contain a lot of actives that make the skin more susceptible to sun damage. Fortunately wearing sunscreen helps you reap the benefits of your skincare without risking further damage.

Does Sunscreen Lighten Your Skin? Here’s How Sunscreen Can Help You Get Rid of Dark Spots & Discoloration Damage

Woman sunbathing under the heat of the sun

Each time your skin is exposed to the sun’s UV rays, the melanin production process is triggered.

Melanin is the pigment that gives your skin its color, which is why skin turns tanned and dark after it has been out in the sun for a while[1].

However, melanin isn’t always produced evenly across the skin.

Sometimes, small areas of skin end up producing excess melanin, and this is what leads to the appearance of dark spots.

How does sunscreen play into all of this? It basically stops UV rays from triggering melanin production, which means that your skin won’t turn darker.

Most sunscreens won’t be able to do much about the excess melanin clusters already in your skin, meaning that sunscreen ingredients alone won’t be able to noticeably fade dark spots. However, a sunscreen will allow your skin to lighten on its own, rather than being bombarded daily by more UV rays that keep it looking dark. Over time, you’ll develop lighter-looking skin.

Wearing sunscreen also means that your hyperpigmentation will fade naturally at a faster rate, rather than darkening each time you step outside with unprotected skin.

RELATED: Best Skin Lightening Cream for Melasma

Fade Melasma & Hyperpigmentation Even Further By Using a Whitening SPF Formula

There are certain ingredients that are used specifically for their UV-protecting qualities, but these don’t usually have skin-lightening properties too. Those that do, such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, work to an extent but aren’t as effective at lightening the skin as other ingredients.[2]

However, this doesn’t mean that a sunscreen formula can’t contain additional skin whitening ingredients.

There are many lightening and brightening compounds that work very well in sunscreen formulas – using a sunscreen that contains these will give that product the ability to actively lighten existing hyperpigmentation on your skin, while also preventing new dark spots from forming.

Some effective whitening ingredients to keep an eye out for the next time you’re shopping for a new sunscreen are:

  • Kojic acid
  • Arbutin
  • Niacinamide, or vitamin B3
  • Vitamin C
  • Licorice root extract
  • Mulberry extract
Spa accessories flower oil extract for skincare

RELATED: How to Lighten Skin Fast With Baking Soda

How to Avoid Dark Spots Caused by Sun Exposure: The 5 Best Sunscreen Tips for Face & Body

Haphazardly slapping a sunscreen onto your face before you rush out of the house each morning, and then leaving it at that, isn’t going to cut it when it comes to lightening and protecting your skin. If you want your sunscreen to help you to fade your hyperpigmentation as quickly as possible, while also preventing the development of new dark spots, you need to be clever about how you use it.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Sunscreen needs to be reapplied every two hours in order to offer its claimed SPF rating. If you fail to do so, then the skin that you’re hoping to lighten will only turn darker.
  • Use a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. If you have very fair or sensitive skin, go for a higher SPF.
  • Mineral sunscreens containing zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are better at brightening the skin than chemical sunscreens.
  • Each time you apply a sunscreen, make sure that you’re using enough product. You’ll need to apply at least 0.5-1 teaspoon-worth of sunscreen to adequately cover your face and neck, or 6 teaspoons if you need to protect your entire body.
  • Some skin whitening ingredients, such as glycolic acid and retinol, can sometimes temporarily increase photosensitivity, meaning that your skin could still turn darker even if you’re following the above sunscreen rules. To avoid this, save these ingredients for evening use instead of applying them in the morning.

RELATED: Does Hydrogen Peroxide Lighten Skin

How to choose a sunscreen

With more and more people becoming aware of the dangers of UV and the need for sunscreen, more and more companies are jumping on the bandwagon to fill a growing market. Here are a few things to consider when choosing a sunscreen;


Sunscreens range from SPF 15 up to SPF 50. While all the above are good for protection against UVB rays, dermatologists recommend a sunscreen of SPF 30 to be safe. If you’re simply walking your dog in the evening or staying home, you can get away with the SPF 15.


Traditionally, sunscreens only protected against UVB rays. Try finding a sunscreen designed to shield your skin from both UVA and UVB rays as research has found there are 500 times more UVA rays than there are UVB. When shopping look out for the term “broad spectrum.

Chemical vs. mineral

Mineral sunscreens contain ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide which sit on the surface of the skin and prevent the UV rays from penetrating the skin. Chemical sunscreens, on the other hand, allow the light to be absorbed into the skin and then triggers a chemical reaction that turns the UV light into heat that eventually dissipates.

Choosing between the two is simply a matter of preference as they both offer protection. Sensitive skin will benefit from mineral sunscreen as they are less likely to irritate.

Water resistance

No sunscreen is completely waterproof however when out doing water sports, it is important to find one that is water-resistance allowing you more time between reapplying

Skin type

As with all skincare products, skin type is the determining factor for what works and what doesn’t. We recommend a hydrating sunscreen for dry skin and oil-free sunscreens for oily skin.


This may be a problem only for the darker-skinned users. When choosing a sunscreen, try to ensure it does not leave a white cast on your skin.


Happy woman applying sunscreen protection on face

Q: Does sunscreen brighten your skin?

Sunscreen prevents your skin from producing melanin, which can give the skin a brighter appearance.

Q: Which sunscreen is best for skin whitening?

The best sunscreen for skin whitening will be one that contains proven skin-lightening ingredients, such as kojic acid, vitamin C, niacinamide, and licorice root extract.

Q: Can sunscreen lighten dark skin?

If your skin is dark because of the amount of sun exposure you receive, then yes, sunscreen will lighten your skin by a couple of shades.

Q: Does sunscreen affect skin color?

Yes, sunscreen will keep your skin color at its natural shade, rather than turning it darker.

Q: Does phototherapy darken skin permanently?

No, the skin darkening effects of phototherapy aren’t permanent. The dark skin should return back to its normal tone after a few months.

Q: How to whiten skin after sunburn?

Gently exfoliating your skin while using skincare products containing soothing lightening ingredients will help to whiten your skin after a sunburn. Don’t forget to also wear SPF!

Q: Does sunblock make you darker? Does sunscreen make you darker?

If the sunscreen or sunblock that you’re using contains ingredients that irritate or stress your skin, then this could make you darker.

Q: What happens if you wear a low SPF sunscreen?

A low SPF sunscreen will allow a greater percentage of UVB rays to penetrate your skin, compared to a high SPF sunscreen.

Q: What are the before and after effects of not wearing sunscreen?

If you don’t wear sunscreen, skin that used to be bright, smooth, and supple will turn dull, pigmented, rough, and wrinkled. The effects of sun damage accumulate over time, meaning that all of this will suddenly hit you in your later years.

Q: Is it good to use zinc oxide for skin whitening?

Yes, in addition to protecting the skin from the sun, zinc oxide also has skin whitening effects.

Q: What pigment in the skin acts as a natural sunblock?

Melanin is the pigment in the skin that acts as a natural sunblock. This is also the pigment that makes your skin darker and contributes to hyperpigmentation.

Q: Will staying out of the sun lighten skin?

Staying out of the sun will help to bring back your lighter natural skin tone.

Conclusion: Wearing Sunscreen Everyday Results in Lighter & Brighter Skin

When it comes down to it, wearing sunscreen every day can definitely help you to achieve the lighter skin tone you’re seeking. Not only that, but any dark spots peppering your face will also naturally fade faster.

Even better, you’ll be preventing wrinkles and skin cancer at the same time too! In our opinion, those are more than enough reasons to dedicate yourself to wearing a sunscreen each and every day.

ALSO READ: Korean Skin Whitening Products


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Avatar for Megan Foley

Megan has been a freelance writer and editor since 2016. In that time, she’s penned a diverse collection of articles for online publication, with a focus on skincare and beauty. From in-depth product reviews to concise marketing content, Megan is passionate about developing content that informs, entertains, and inspires.