Ultraviolet light radiation generates highly reactive molecular compounds known as free radical oxygen species in the skin. These radicals induced by UV radiation can negatively impact DNA and generate widespread damaging effects, resulting in tissue death and even cancer. Additionally, these radicals can cause breakdown of the skin’s natural collagen, leading to photoaging. Photoprotective agents, such as sunscreen, absorb or deflect UV radiation. Other protective agents, such as antioxidants, prevent or fix the damaging effects of sunlight exposure. Antioxidants effectively work by counteracting the actions of these harmful radical oxygen species created from UV light exposure. Referred to as radical scavengers, these compounds neutralize these harmful molecules. Sunlight exposure depletes your body of its supply of antioxidants, and this contributes heavily to the deleterious effects we observe with excessive UV exposure.[1,2]
Sun protection is a very important form of preventative medicine for the skin. The damaging effects of the sun are not only immediately obvious in the form of sunburns, but the long-term effects are also recognized as sun induced aging and skin cancers. Among the many forms of protection from ultraviolet radiation that one could employ, most are not in the habit of taking vitamins before long-periods of sunlight exposure. Both herbal and nutritional supplementation have demonstrated their ability to be helpful against sun overexposure. Here is a closer look at how three of the best supplements for skin health and sun protection have shown promise in research.
Ascorbic acid, commonly known as Vitamin C, prevents the injurious effects of sunlight by reducing reactive oxygen species, countering the oxidants generated by stabilizing the molecules. Vitamin C is a crucial tool in the body’s innate defenses against oxidative damage like that of a first-degree burn from the sun. Research from Duke University has provided evidence that Vitamin C is severely depleted with exposure to ultraviolet radiation. When applied topically, this study demonstrated that Vitamin C levels found in the skin can be significantly elevated, protecting it from UV mediated toxicity. Another study out of the Journal of Burn Care Rehabilitation revealed a measurable loss of Vitamin C in rats challenged by burns to their skin. This research interestingly revealed how the oral administration of an antioxidant solution containing ascorbic acid, glutathione, and a precursor to glutathione, N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine, reduced the harmful consequences of the challenge posed to these rats. Vitamin C also has a role in collagen synthesis. Orally, this vitamin has shown to improve the effects of photoaging and could have long-term preventative efficacy when taken in combination with other nutritive and antioxidant ingredients.[6,7]
Another vitamin found in the body, Vitamin E, not only has antioxidative effects similar to Vitamin C, but also provides protection against ultraviolet induced photodamage to the skin with its UV absorptive properties when applied topically.[9-11] Vitamin E is a reference to a family of vitamins known as tocopherols, of which alpha-tocopherol is most abundantly found and active in the body. Multiple studies have demonstrated the protective effects of naturally occurring tocopherols, preventing DNA damage to the skin from sunlight. A study from the University of Arizona reported that alpha-tocopherol, including many of its derivatives, was comparable to commercially available sunscreens in their ability to prevent ultraviolet induced DNA photodamage in mice. A separate study involving the topical administration of Vitamin E three times a week for three weeks reduced the incidence of skin cancer in UV-irradiated mice nearly in half. Studies have also shown that one can increase α-tocopherol concentrations in the skin with both the use of oral or topical supplementation in multiple mouse models.[14-16]
Clinical trials suggest that oral administration of Vitamin E might very well act as a photoprotectant, especially with the aid of other antioxidants. Multiple studies have revealed an increased minimal erythema dose (MED), the amount of UV radiation needed to produce redness, in subjects supplemented with alpha-tocopherol. And when combined with vitamin C, a greater increase in MED was observed.[17,18]
Referred to as retinoids, Vitamin A also has radical scavenging potential. Due to its physical properties, it has the potential to absorb UV light and thus can be helpful in preventing the negative effects of sun exposure. Topical Vitamin A additionally has anti-aging effects, improving vascularity and collagen structure. Topical Vitamin A has demonstrated efficacy in inhibiting melanoma growth in mice and high consumption of the vitamin was found to be inversely correlated to melanoma risk in women.[21,22]
Though vitamin A cannot be created in the body, it can be found in the diet in the form of provitamins known as carotenoids. Many studies have demonstrated the benefits of one particular carotenoid, beta-carotene. Beta-carotene supplementation appears to have several protective functions such as an increase in MED, decrease in redness from the sun. In mice, it has been shown to be preventative of photoaging.[24-26]
Use Vitamins Safely
These are just a few examples of the growing body of evidence demonstrating that antioxidant treatments, both internally and topically, may very well contribute to minimizing short and long-term injury from sun exposure. Vitamin intake should be done with the guidance of a qualified medical practitioner. Vitamins can be toxic at high doses, causing serious adverse side effects and increasing your risk for some diseases. Dietary sources of these vitamins, though sometimes difficult to obtain high volumes, serve as the safest way to consume them. Usual precautions should be made before sun exposure, including sun protective clothing, avoidance of intense sunlight, and use of broad-spectrum sunscreens. Be sure to consult your healthcare provider before beginning any regimen.