Antioxidants for Better Sun Protection
Most people know that they should use sunscreen to reduce the risk of skin cancer and premature skin aging, but there’s an SPF-enhancing sidekick that’s often overlooked—antioxidants. We reveal the science behind how antioxidants boost your sunscreen’s effectiveness + tips to keep skin looking young, healthy, and vibrant.
How Antioxidants Help Boost Skin's Sun Defense
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) sunscreen as liberally as they should to get sufficient protection.
The residual UV exposure from the rays that get through can trigger free-radical damage that accelerates skin aging, 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, and the results will show up over time. This doesn’t mean sunscreen 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.
Antioxidants to the Rescue!
Antioxidants can help compensate for sunscreen’s inherent shortcomings (and for human error in application) by neutralizing the free-radical damage that sun exposure causes. They literally play a defensive role by diffusing the effects of the bad rays that make it through your sunscreen. Not only that, antioxidants also help defend skin from other sources of free radicals, such as high-energy visible (HEV) light and blue light from your cell phone. Left unchecked, this damage can lead to skin problems no one wants.
Many antioxidants also have skin-calming properties (environmental exposure stresses skin) and play a formulary role by helping to stabilize the sunscreen while also boosting its effectiveness.
Simply put: Antioxidants supercharge your sunscreen by ensuring maximum protection and supplemental repair for your skin.
Which Antioxidants Are Best?
There really is no single best antioxidant; rather, there are hundreds of amazing antioxidants that complement the anti-aging benefits of sunscreen. Here are just a few of the 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 aging. EGCG is also included in our DEFENSE Antioxidant Pore Purifier, which is ideal to apply under sunscreen.
- 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 defenses, helping the antioxidants that naturally occur in skin work better. Look for kiwi fruit in our DEFENSE Essential Glow Moisturizer SPF 30.
- Vitamin E (tocopherol) is a classic, well-studied antioxidant that is brilliant for round-the-clock antioxidant benefits. In the presence of UVA light—the sun’s most aging rays—vitamin E reduces oxidative by-products in skin and enhances the benefits of glutathione, the body’s “master antioxidant” that’s also present in skin. Tocopherol is one of the many antioxidants in our DEFENSE Nightly Reconditioning Moisturizer.
- Licorice root is a skin-soothing antioxidant that also helps improve dull, uneven skin tone. In the presence of UV light, a compound in licorice root known as licochalcone-A quiets the firestorm of surface inflammation environmental exposure ignites. All of these benefits are why we added licorice root to several products in our DEFENSE line.
When & How to Use Antioxidants Daily
The easiest way to get improved environmental protection is to apply an antioxidant-rich sunscreen every morning.
You can also use an antioxidant serum before applying your sunscreen. (Sunscreen should always be your last skincare step in the AM; serum and moisturizer can be layered beneath based on their textures.) When it comes to topical application of antioxidants, skin can’t get enough, so don’t worry about overdoing it.
Additionally, consider applying a moisturizer 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 defense 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:
Molecules, November 2018, ePublication
Frontiers in Pharmacology, August 2018, ePublication; and April 2018, ePublication
Mechanisms of Ageing and Development, June 2018, pages 123-130
International Journal of Molecular Medicine, January 2018, ePublication
Skin Pharmacology and Physiology, May 2017, pages 81-89
Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology, August 2018, pages 46-49; August 2016, pages 34–39; and November 2014, pages 36–40
Nutrients, December 2015, ePublication
European Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, October 2015, pages 79–89
Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, June 2014, pages 71–77
Biomedical Reports, May 2014, pages 419-423
Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, November 2012, pages 1,013–1,024; and September 2008, pages 418–425
Clinics in Dermatology, March-April 2009, pages 195-201
About the Experts
Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books about skincare and makeup. She is known worldwide as The Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula’s Choice Skincare. Paula’s expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international radio, print, and television including:
The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to busting beauty myths and providing expert advice that solves your skincare frustrations so you can have the best skin of your life!