Also adding extra value to their products, many manufacturers are including vitamins and botanicals that may boost a sunscreen’s ability to protect you from the sun. How? By using the antioxidant capabilities of these nutrients to prevent free-radical damage.
“When ultraviolet light hits your skin, it creates free radicals—molecules missing an electron. They start stealing molecules from stable tissues, which results in sunburn or other skin damage and ultimately can lead to cancer,” Grossman says. Antioxidants work by donating an electron to the free radical so it doesn’t steal from our tissues, he says.
Vitamins C and E, for instance, are particularly beneficial. Initial studies show that when used topically, they can give skin four times more sun protection. Furthermore, when taken together, vitamins C and E work synergistically to provide better protection than when taken alone. They work so well, according to research, because the sun lowers the skin’s levels of vitamins C and E, indicating that one way the sun may damage skin is by lowering its antioxidant defenses. It helps when we can build up natural defenses with topical applications.
Scientists also are discovering that plant antioxidants work as natural sunscreens. A recent study found that topically applied lycopene (found in fruits such as tomatoes, guava and watermelon) provided even more free-radical protection than vitamins C and E. Other antioxidants are beta-carotene found in orange-colored vegetables, the catechins found in green tea, and isoflavones found in soy.
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