Why Antioxidants Should No Longer Be Absent From Your Sun Care Regime

And all of a sudden it’s spring. Oh how I’ve been looking forward to it. It feels as though the cold dark days become more challenging every year. If I can, I try and escape the cold winter briefly for a holiday to a faraway tropical destination with my family. Great! Sadly, my skin is considerably less pleased about it. When you are so close to the equator just applying sun cream is not enough, you need to take several other measures in order to protect your skin from sun damage. That’s why I always take a suitcase filled with caps, hats and sunglasses. Furthermore, I provide my skin with a good dose of antioxidants. And that is not just recommended in those tropical destinations, but also in our own chilly little country.

A sun filter alone is not enough

Sun filters block the UVB rays and, if you have a good product, also the UVA rays. It is impossible, however, to completely block rays out. Not only because the filters are unable to, but also because no-one can apply it perfectly. In addition to this, it has become clear in the last few years that not only UVA and UVB rays, but also infrared light and even visible light can cause skin damage. And there is not so much that our sun filters can do about that.

A young healthy skin has enough natural antioxidants ‘on standby’ to distinguish the free radicals which develop through sun exposure. But, with the increase in age and through less efficient functioning of the skin, this natural defence becomes depleted and the number of free radicals can increase substantially. Supplementing your supply of antioxidants to neutralise the free radicals before they can cause damage, definitely as you get older, is not an unnecessary luxury. There are two ways in which to do this, via your diet or through the use of skincare products with antioxidants.

Antioxidants in your food

A couple of years ago, a group of students from Wageningen University and myself looked at the effect of various nutrients by UV exposure. And one thing was blatantly clear; food containing sufficient antioxidants can (partly) protect your skin against UV damage.

The most studied nutrients are carotenoids, vitamin C and E and polyphenols. One study showed that people who consumed 40 grams of tomato puree for ten consecutive weeks were 40% less red after UV exposure. And if you don’t like the idea of a daily can of tomato puree; green tea, coffee and pistachio nuts can also be protective. It is important to know that this effect doesn’t occur immediately. So don’t leave starting your sun protection diet to just before heading south. Furthermore, one carrot a day will not make a difference, as an enormous amount of antioxidants are required.

Astaxanthin tablet

My favourite nutrient for UV protection is astaxanthin. You would need to eat an awful lot of salmon to get the required amount of this, whereas it is simpler to take a supplement. A recent study showed that taking 4mg a day provides protection against sun damage after just two weeks. The substance also benefits your body in a lot of other ways, so I take one tablet every day.

Antioxidants in your skincare

Diet is important, but it is sometimes more effective to apply the antioxidants directly onto your skin. This is because via diet the substances cannot always reach the places they need to in order to be able to do their job.
Much research has been carried out into the sun protecting effects of sun creams where antioxidants have been added. Here a concentration of 0.2% niacinamide (vitamin B3) can have a preventative effect on sun damage. It has been discovered that vitamin A, caffeine, vitamin C and E, ubiquinone (co-enzyme Q10), grapeseed, and ferulic acid also protect the skin from sun damage. I do need to add a footnote here. Although it has been established that antioxidants can protect the skin, much of this type of research uses fresh ingredients in high concentrations. This is a different story for commercial products.

What about the concentration

A study in 2011 revealed that out of 12 sun cream products with antioxidants which were tested, 10 had no antioxidant effect; 2 showed very moderate activity. And that is not unusual. As I have told you before, antioxidants are difficult to preserve in a product and manufacturers do not like to add high concentrations to a product.

I would advise you therefore to be sure and always apply a cream or serum with antioxidants under your sun cream. And if that product is in an airtight container, the chances of protecting your skin against the sun is greatest.

Kind regards,


Research Physician Cosmetic Dermatology

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