Renowned Integrative Physician Dr. Ronald Hoffman reveals the emerging science of nutraceutical skin protectants, in a recent article. Dr. Hoffman identifies 10 sun-care supplements to help protect you from UV exposure.
“After a bitter, interminable winter, many of us are facing the onslaught of UV rays without a basecoat of skin pigment, rendering us more susceptible to solar damage and skin cancer risk,” says Dr. Hoffman. “Notwithstanding the benefits of endogenous vitamin D production with sun exposure, there are real risks from excessive UV rays—skin cancer of course, but also degradation of superficial collagen which leads to prematurely wrinkled, leathery skin.”
While not a substitute for prudent sun exposure, Hoffman says these nutraceutical skin protectants offer a second line of defense against skin cancer and solar aging.
Heliocare: Plants, too, must protect themselves from the devastating effects of chronic UV exposure, so it stands to reason they contain powerful natural antioxidants that quench free radicals. This is the rationale behind a new over-the-counter product called Heliocare, developed by skin scientists. It is made from the extract of Polypodium leucotomos (PLE), a fern native to Central and South America that has been used for centuries as a remedy for skin related conditions.
Niacinamide (Vitamin B3): While niacinamide is not typically considered an antioxidant, it plays a role in stabilizing DNA replication. Coding mistakes in sun-zapped genetic material result in mutations in cell lines that can lead to skin cancer. While perhaps not for everyone, high-dose B3 might prove helpful for individuals who require frequent “barnacle scrapings” at the dermatologist.
Astaxanthin: Among the most potent of the carotenoid antioxidants, astaxanthin has been heralded as an “internal sunscreen.” When taken in sufficient amounts, it literally increases skin pigmentation, offering a natural sunshield, albeit producing a slightly orange coloration.
Lycopene: Another member of the carotenoid family, tomatoes and watermelon are rich natural sources of this potent antioxidant. Research demonstrates that simply eating tomato paste daily for ten weeks reduced sunburn by a whopping 40%.
Vitamin E: Since vitamin E is a potent antioxidant, it makes sense to consider it as part of your skin-shield portfolio. A study performed in 2000 showed that vitamin E could prevent solar damage, with additional benefits when teamed with beta carotene.
Vitamin D: After one’s first brush with skin cancer, the frequently heard admonition is “Avoid sun exposure.” This may paradoxically compound the risk of subsequent skin cancers. Vitamin D is a potent inhibitor of cancer, and researchers are now trying to “tweak” its chemical structure to devise anti-skin cancer drugs. Maintenance of adequate vitamin D is even thought to play a role in melanoma prevention.
EGCG: Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) from green tea has been shown to have generalized anti-cancer effects. Clinical trials are underway to establish whether topical application of EGCG can retard the progression of basal cell skin cancer; it’s unclear whether taking it orally has the same effect.
Curcumin: With its well-documented anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects, curcumin, a purified derivative of turmeric, is a promising nutraceutical for solar protection. Test-tube experiments show that it can halt replication of melanoma cells; curcumin creams have been touted for reversing skin damage caused by UV exposure as well as for protecting cancer-prone skin.
Pycnogenol: An extract of the bark of the French maritime pine grown in Southern France, a region of blistering sunlight, pycnogenol is rich in anti-oxidant proanthocyanidins. Topical application of pycnogenol after UV exposure significantly decreases the inflammatory response, resulting in less swelling and redness.
Grapeseed Extract: A landmark study of hairless mice exposed to UV radiation showed that oral supplementation reduced the incidence and severity of skin cancers.
Dr. Ronald Hoffman is a pioneering complementary medicine practitioner, Director of the Hoffman Center for Integrative Medicine based in New York City, and host of the popular and long running syndicated weekly radio program and podcast “Intelligent Medicine.”