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5 Nutritional Supplements for Sun Protection

Supplements with evidence for sun protection

Published on 09/05/2017
Sun CareSun SmartsHealthy FoodsNutraceuticalsSun ProtectionNutritionSupplementsWesternNaturopathy
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Ultraviolet radiation from sunlight exposure is known to cause photodamage in the skin.[1] Sun damage can cause inflammation, oxidative stress, breakdown of extracellular matrix, and skin cancer. While avoidance of intense sunlight, sun protective clothing, and sunscreens are important to avoid sun damage, the use of oral supplements has gained popularity in their potential to help with sun protection. A slew of supplements is one method available to improve protection against UV radiation.[2]

These five nutritional supplements may help with sun protection. 

Sun Supplement #1: Polypodium leucotomos

Polypodium leucotomos is a fern from South America that has shown clinical indications for psoriasis, atopic dermatitis (eczema), vitiligo, polymorphic light eruption, and melasma.[2] Research has shown that taking 240 mg of oral Polypodium leucotomos extract twice a day for 60 days can reduce the damage from ultraviolet radiation.[2] In this study, a comparison group showed a greater chance of experiencing one or more sunburn episodes while the treatment group with P. leucotomos extract had significantly reduced chances of experiencing sunburns.

UV radiation damages DNA and reduces the ability of skin cells to control cell proliferation. When DNA absorbs UV energy, mutations in the DNA known as pyrimidine dimers form and the DNA strand cannot be copied. Normally, the skin can repair DNA mutations, but excessive damage may lead to long-term mutations and skin cancer. In addition to damaging DNA, UV radiation increases the risk of skin cancer by suppressing cutaneous antitumor immunity. Antitumor immune cells help recognize and respond to cancer. With UV exposure, suppression of these cells in the skin will increase the risk of skin cancer. Furthermore, our body uses ATP as its source of energy to carry out many life functions. UV radiation can deplete ATP levels and prevent repair of DNA damage caused by radiation in the first place.[3]

Our bodies have antioxidant activity, meaning it can terminate the oxidative reactions producing free radicals that ultimately damage cells. This oxidative damage may be a result of UV radiation. P. leucotomos which enhances antioxidant activity, thereby decreasing the oxidative damage from UV radiation.

Sun Supplement #2: Nicotinamide/Niacinamide

Nicotinamide (also known as niacinamide) is the precursor of nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+) which is an essential cofactor for ATP production.[3] ATP is used as an energy source within the cells of our body. By preventing the depletion of ATP from UV radiation, nicotinamide increases cellular energy and enhances DNA repair. The immunosuppression from UV radiation and DNA damage is also reduced by nicotinamide.           

Nicotinamide is a Vitamin B3 supplement that can help prevent skin cancers and precancers as an inexpensive oral pill taken twice daily.[4] Studies found that Vitamin B3 supplements reduced the rate of new squamous-cell and basal-cell skin cancers by 23% in patients at high risk for skin cancer.

Sun Supplement #3: Beta-carotene

Beta-carotene, a plant-derived carotenoid, possesses pro-vitamin A activity.[5] Oral supplementation of beta-carotene protects against UV-induced erythema (skin redness).[6] Scavenging reactive oxygen species from photo-oxidative processes is one of the antioxidant activities of carotenoids. This includes inactivation of reactive molecules, such as singlet oxygens and free radicals.[5] Studies suggest that beta-carotene may delay the appearance of a person’s first new skin cancer. While beta-carotene and its antioxidant effect increases defenses against UV radiation, maintaining skin health and appearance, topical sunscreen is still required.[7]

Sun Supplement #4: Astaxanthin

UV radiation from the sun is classified into UVA, UVB, and UVC depending on various properties of light. Both UVA and UVB play a role in skin aging and skin cancer. UVA light rays may be less intense than UVB, but UVA is more abundant in the environment and penetrates deeper into the skin.[8]

Too much of any one thing is not always beneficial. Oxygen is one example in the case of oxidative stress. Our bodies have metabolic processes that allow us to obtain energy by burning fuel with oxygen. However, too much oxygen may wreak havoc and create dangerous byproducts such as free radicals. Oxidative stress is an imbalance between the production of reactive oxygen species and antioxidant defenses. This imbalance may lead to injury and disease.

Heme oxyganse-1 (HO-1) is one enzyme that marks oxidative stress. Astaxanthin is a carotenoid that comes from algae, yeast, salmon, trout, krill, shrimp, and crayfish, giving some of these animals their orange-pink color.[9] Astaxanthin prevents the increase in HO-1 that is caused by UV exposure. This supplement can inhibit the formation of the harmful reactive oxygen species induced from UVA.[10]

Sun Supplement #5: Vitamin E Rich Foods

Vitamin E rich foods include nuts, spinach, whole grains, olive oil, and sunflower oil.[11] Vitamin E comes from plants and must be obtained through diet. Studies have suggested that it has antitumorigenic and photoprotective properties with the ability to protect the skin from the sun’s UV radiation. As a fat-soluble antioxidant, Vitamin E acts a free-radical scavenger. Alpha-tocopherol (a natural form of Vitamin E) reduces collagenase, which is an enzyme that destroys collagen and increases skin aging.[12]

How Should Supplements Be Used?

Supplements are NOT a replacement for sun protection but should be used as a bonus in addition to regular sun protection. The best ways to protect from the sun, in order of importance, include avoiding intense sunlight, wearing sun protective clothing, and using broad-spectrum sunscreens. Swallowing a supplement or pill should be used in addition to these methods to improve skin health! 


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