Antioxidants for better sun protection

Antioxidants for better sun protection

Most people know that they should use sun cream to reduce the risk of skin cancer and premature skin ageing, but there’s an SPF-enhancing sidekick that’s often overlooked – antioxidants. We reveal the science behind how antioxidants boost your sun cream’s effectiveness + tips to keep your skin looking young, healthy and vibrant.

Written by: Desiree Stordahl, Director of Applied Research & Education at Paula’s Choice

Antioxidants for sun protection

As great as broad-spectrum sunscreen is, it doesn’t offer 100% protection from the harmful rays we encounter daily. For example, a sunscreen with SPF 15 keeps out approximately 93% of bad ultraviolet (UV) rays, SPF 30 equates to 97% protection and SPF 50+ garners about 98%. Another factor is that most people don’t apply (or reapply) sun cream as liberally as they should to get sufficient protection.

The residual UV exposure, from the rays that do get through, can trigger free-radical damage that accelerates skin ageing in the form of wrinkles, dark spots, loss of firmness and other issues. Even if you can’t see or feel the damage, it’s happening, albeit at a deeper level. The results will show up over time. This doesn’t mean sun cream isn’t effective or worth using – it absolutely helps protect skin from sun damage – but even superheroes need a little help every now and then.

How do antioxidants protect the skin?

Antioxidants can help compensate for sun cream’s inherent shortcomings (and for human error in application) by neutralising the free-radical damage that sun exposure causes. Antioxidants literally play a defensive role by diffusing the effects of the bad rays that make it through sun cream. Not only that, but antioxidants also help defend the skin from other sources of free radicals, such as high-energy visible (HEV) light and blue light from your phone. Left unchecked, this damage can lead to skin problems no one wants.

What are the benefits of antioxidants in sun cream?

Many antioxidants also have skin-calming properties (environmental exposure stresses the skin) and play a formulary role by helping to stabilise sunscreen whilst also boosting its effectiveness.

Simply put: Antioxidants supercharge your sun cream by ensuring maximum protection and supplemental repair for your skin.

Antioxidant-rich products

There really is no single best antioxidant; rather, there are hundreds of effective antioxidants that complement the anti-ageing benefits of sun cream. Here are just a few antioxidant-rich options that have substantial research supporting their benefit in countering the effects of UV light:

  • Coffee fruit extract contains antioxidant compounds known as chlorogenic acids that can reduce the visible effects of sun exposure by stopping the cascade of redness-triggering damage UV light causes. Find coffee fruit extract in our DEFENSE Antioxidant Pore Purifier.
  • Green tea contains a compound known as epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG): a potent antioxidant that can quench free radicals generated by exposure to UV light. Left unchecked, these rogue molecules lead to multiple signs of ageing. EGCG is also included in our DEFENSE Antioxidant Pore Purifier, which is ideal to apply under sun cream.
  • Kiwi fruit extract is a rich source of skin-loving vitamin C and contains lutein, an important antioxidant for skin that ramps up its environmental defences, helping the antioxidants that occur naturally in the skin work better. Look for kiwi fruit in our DEFENSE Moisturiser SPF 30.
  • Vitamin E (tocopherol) is a classic, well-studied antioxidant that is brilliant for around-the-clock antioxidant benefits. In the presence of UVA light, the sun’s most ageing rays, vitamin E reduces oxidative by-products in the skin and enhances the benefits of glutathione, the body’s “master antioxidant” that’s also present in skin. Tocopherol is one of the antioxidants in our C15 Super BOOSTER.
  • Liquorice root is a skin-soothing antioxidant that also helps improve dull, uneven skin tone. In the presence of UV light, a compound in liquorice root known as licochalcone-A quiets the firestorm of surface inflammation that’s ignited by environmental exposure. All of these benefits are why we added liquorice root to several products in our DEFENSE collection.

When & how to use antioxidants daily

The easiest way to get improved environmental protection is to apply an antioxidant-rich sun cream every morning.

You can also use an antioxidant serum before applying your sun cream. (Products with sunscreen should always be your last skincare step in the AM; serum and moisturiser can be layered beneath based on their textures.) When it comes to topical application of antioxidants, your skin can’t get enough, so don’t worry about overdoing it.

Additionally, consider applying a moisturiser loaded with antioxidants at night to help further repair signs of sun damage from rays that may have gotten through.

All of the above will help provide a synergistic defence and help your skin stay supple, healthy, even-toned and vibrant.

Keep in mind, however, that this is only the tip of the iceberg for SPF-boosting antioxidants – the more, the merrier.

References for this information:

1. Molecules, November 2018, ePublication
2. Frontiers in Pharmacology, August 2018, ePublication; and April 2018, ePublication
3. Mechanisms of Ageing and Development, June 2018, pages 123-130
4. International Journal of Molecular Medicine, January 2018, ePublication
5. Skin Pharmacology and Physiology, May 2017, pages 81-89
6. Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology, August 2018, pages 46-49; August 2016, pages 34–39; and November 2014, pages 36–40
7. Nutrients, December 2015, ePublication
8. European Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, October 2015, pages 79–89
9. Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, June 2014, pages 71–77
10. Biomedical Reports, May 2014, pages 419-423
11. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, November 2012, pages 1,013–1,024; and September 2008, pages 418–425
12. Clinics in Dermatology, March-April 2009, pages 195-201


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