UVB rays from the sun are thought to be responsible for the majority of UV-related skin damage, partially because of the immediate visible changes they produce. Although the inflammation and redness caused by a sunburn are the obvious downsides, it’s what’s happening inside your skin that is the most troublesome.
UVB radiation is responsible for a series of events that take place inside the epidermal skin cells, including increased levels of the damaging free radical reactive oxygen species (ROS). Radicals are compounds with unpaired electrons. This lack of electron balance creates highly reactive atoms and molecules. There are many types of free radicals, but ROS have been widely studied because of their particularly damaging effects in the skin. Of the wide variety of environmental offenders, UV radiation is one of the top contributors to the overproduction of ROS free radicals and stress in the skin. ROS include hydroxyl radicals, nitric oxide, peroxynitrite, superoxide anions, peroxide, triplet oxygen and singlet oxygen.
ROS are widely known for their ability to cause damage to cellular proteins, fats and even our DNA. The important factor for avoiding this oxidative stress and damage is keeping the skin’s radical and antioxidant levels in balance. Exposure to UV rays increases the production of ROS and upsets this balance (homeostasis) in the skin. Using topical antioxidants in your daily care regimen is important all year, but especially during the winter months when skin is dehydrated and vulnerable to damaging free radicals.
In addition, UVB rays cause a reduction of the skin’s natural antioxidant levels, making it even more susceptible to DNA damage and mutation. It is this UV-induced DNA mutation that is the number one cause of skin cancers. This inevitable chain reaction in the skin is the reason the use of sunscreen ingredients alone is not enough. Sunscreen formulations should include antioxidants to help prevent the initial over-production of ROS and to support our natural defenses. Certainly, the use of SPF and antioxidants is important year-round, but it is a particularly helpful support to dry, dehydrated winter skin.
Multiple antioxidant ingredients have demonstrated benefits for reducing the incidence of ROS-induced skin cancers and premature aging. While there are thousands of topical antioxidants that are worthy of further study, one category of antioxidants worth noting is botanically sourced phenolic antioxidants.
Look for sunscreens and topical formulations with the following ingredients to boost antioxidants within the skin and protect it from UV damage:
- green tea
- coffea arabica