Beyond sunscreen: ingredients to enhance skin’s sun defences.
01 Jul 2021

When it comes to sun care, there’s more to skin protection than simply SPF and sunscreen.

Whether your client is a sun-seeker or shade-dweller, incorporating a range of proven ingredients into a skin health routine can provide powerful sun protection and skin health benefits in the long and short term.

While clients are less likely to be soaking up sunshine in exotic destinations this year, sun protection is a crucial aspect of any skin care routine – especially in the summer. Weaving year-round sun protection into a regime helps minimise UV induced ageing, and it is vital in reducing the risk of skin cancer.

While a broad-spectrum sunscreen is one important aspect of a sun protection regime, substantial evidence demonstrates that other ingredients – both topical and oral – provide significant benefits and should be part of any sun protection regime. Some ingredients work directly to prevent damage from UV rays, and others are effective in targeting and repairing existing damage.

Sun exposure and UV damage is the number one cause of premature ageing. Looking beyond SPF and sunscreen for holistic approach is the best way to ensuring skin protection. SPF protection, for example, only shields against UVB rays, and many sunscreens contain high levels of chemicals which can be damaging for the skin. Incorporating additional, powerful and proven ingredients into daily use helps to ensure comprehensive sun protection.

What are UV rays and how do they damage skin?

When we protect skin from the sun, we are really protecting against the ultraviolet (UV) rays within sunlight.

There are three kinds of UV rays: UVA, UVB and UVC, and each has a different interaction with the skin.

  •          UVA rays have a cumulative, ageing impact and penetrate deep into the dermis. They are present all year round and permeate through clouds and glass.
  •          UVB rays are the “burning” ray and occur in warm summer sun. In the UK and Ireland, they are strongest from May to September. These rays are responsible for creating vitamin D in the skin: converting pro-vitamin D to active vitamin D.
  •          UVC rays are almost entirely filtered out by the ozone layer, and most people will never be exposed. They can cause serious issues such as cancer.

“UV rays damage skin in two main ways,” explains Dr Gaby Prinsloo, medical director at the iiaa. “They increase the number of free radicals in the skin, and they also damage cells directly – causing DNA damage, vitamin A and vitamin D depletion among many other issues. A significant amount of UV damage is caused by the generation of free radicals.”

She explains that this damage includes: DNA damage in many types of skin cells, decreased cellular receptors, abnormal keratinocyte growth and differentiation, decreased ceramide production, increased melanin production, dehydration due to decreased hyaluronic acid, decreased collagen production, inflammation, decreased immunity and blood vessel damage.

The combination of these accelerates the symptoms of ageing. Characteristic signs of sun damage include wrinkles and laxity from collagen and elastin damage, thin, dry, rough or sallow skin, telangiectasis (spider veins) and hyper- or hypo- pigmentation. Extreme damage and exposure can increase the likelihood of developing skin cancer.

In addition to UV rays, sun protection also helps protect from blue light or HEV (high energy visible light), which is part of the visible light spectrum, and reaches our skin even in the shade. You can read more about blue light and skin in your April 2021 edition of the bulletin. 


With a lot of skin damage from UV occurring because of free radicals, antioxidants are vital for sun protection.

Atoms need a balance of protons and electrons for stability: free radicals are atoms that lack one electron, and so are imbalanced and unstable which results in damage to surrounding cells and tissues. When a photon of sunlight hits an atom, it knocks off an electron – causing instability and creating a free radical. Excess free radicals in the skin can be inhibited by antioxidants.

Antioxidants occur naturally in the body and throughout nature, and there are specific antioxidants that deliver powerful, proven protection against UV induced free radicals.

“Phytonutrient antioxidants are particularly beneficial, as the plants they are derived from use their antioxidant properties to protect themselves from UV radiation,” explains Lorraine Perretta, head of nutrition at Advanced Nutrition Programme™. “For example, lycopene in tomatoes protects the fruit of the plant. It is mostly found in the skin of the tomato, and prevents “sun burn” from damaging the fruit.”

Research shows oral supplementation of lycopene protects against both UVA and UVB damage thanks to its antioxidant properties. Additionally, one study reported that high levels of lycopene may support skin structure, reducing roughness, dryness and wrinkling.

Other plant derived antioxidants include lutein (found in kale and spinach) and zeaxanthin (found in saffron, corn and paprika). In addition to phytonutrients, vitamins C and E work together for powerful antioxidant protection.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A has a myriad of potent benefits when it comes to sun protection.

Firstly, vitamin A’s functions regulating, maintaining and repairing the skin are vital in offsetting UV damage. “Vitamin A in cells supports healthy ageing,” states Dr Gaby. “So just by its regular activity it reduces the symptoms of ageing in the skin.”

Alongside this, retinyl palmitate – the storage form of vitamin A – has photoprotective properties. Dr Gaby explains that retinyl palmitate is a “chromophore”, meaning it absorbs photons of UV light before they penetrate deeper into skin.

Dr Gaby notes that protection varies from person to person, depending on the amount of vitamin A already present.  “If a client has low levels of vitamin A, any vitamin A taken orally or added topically will be quickly converted into the active form (retinoic acid) to perform its functions in the skin,” she explains. “It is only when there is sufficient vitamin A supplied to the skin that additional vitamin A is stored as retinyl palmitate – where it provides its photoprotective effect.”

Maintaining optimum levels of vitamin A in the skin is, therefore, vital to ensure clients benefit from retinyl palmitate’s photoprotective properties while retaining vitamin A’s powerful skin health functions. The body’s stores of vitamin A should be replenished both orally and topically every day, and the younger this replenishment begins, the greater the chance of reducing effects of skin ageing.

Omega fatty acids

With well-established benefits for skin health and hydration, emerging research shows omega fatty acids also provide significant protection from UV damage. Omegas-3 and -6 are involved in regulating the inflammatory and immune responses, and studies indicate they influence skin’s response to UV rays on a cellular level.

Omega-3 also reduces the inflammatory response triggered by UV. Omega-3 supplementation reduces UVB induced erythema (redness) and increases the time it takes before skin burns. However, trials suggest that benefits stop once supplementation finishes – indicating the importance of consistency to maintain benefits for skin health.

When incorporating omegas into a skincare routine, it is vital to also maintain optimum levels of antioxidants. The long-chain, omega molecules are particularly susceptible to oxidation. If oxidation occurs, the molecules can no longer deliver their skin benefits.

"Omegas offer sun care benefits for the whole body: providing UV protection and nourished, hydrated and radiant summer skin.”

- Lorraine Perretta, head of nutrition for Advanced Nutrition Programme™.

Lorraine Perretta adds that omegas play a “dual role” when it comes to sun exposure. “Omegas not only offer protection from UV rays, but they also hydrate your skin,” she explains. “This prevents skin from becoming dry or flaky if you are in the sun for a long time: for example, on holiday. Omegas offer sun care benefits for the whole body: providing UV protection and nourished, hydrated and radiant summer skin.”

A sun protection cocktail

When it comes to sun safety, it is a common misconception that only topical products can provide protection. Studies show nutritional supplements offer significant photoprotective benefits for the skin.

“Using oral ingredients to enhance sun protection works on every skin cell, not just where you put topical creams,” adds Lorraine Perretta. “The benefits occur all year around, increase over time and don’t need reapplying throughout the days.”

Incorporating topical and oral treatments including a variety of targeted ingredients into a sun care regime is a comprehensive and clever way to increase protection from the inside out. In combination with SPF, this approach protects skin from UV while supporting its integral functions. Together this tactic can help to minimise UV-related photo-ageing: helping clients to secure healthy and radiant skin for years to come.