Protect Your Skin from Summer Sun with the Right Supplements

Protect Your Skin from Summer Sun with the Right Supplements

Summer is coming… plan ahead

Ultraviolet (UV) rays on unprotected skin can cause first and second degree burns to the skin, commonly referred to as sunburn. Long-term damage from overexposure can include premature aging and even skin cancer. Using commercially available sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher is an effective protection. However, a variety of natural remedies can be even more helpful than chemical-laden oils.

Protective dietary supplements

Research has identified the benefits of antioxidants to prevent or minimize damage caused by UV radiation. Damage begins when UV radiation stimulates the production of free radicals and lipid peroxidases in the skin. Antioxidants such as vitamin E and vitamin C neutralize these particles and reduce cell damage. These common nutrients are also effective in preventing sunburn.

In a study by the University of Munich, 10 subjects received daily vitamin C (2000 mg) and vitamin E (1000 IU) or a placebo. The sunburn response before and after 8 days of supplement intake was determined by measuring the minimum erythema (redness) dose or MED. This is the amount of UV radiation required to produce an even pink color on exposed skin.

Results showed that subjects taking the vitamins required 20% more UV exposure to experience the same level of response compared to subjects taking a placebo(1) . A similar finding came from a separate study at the University of Frankfurt, which concluded that vitamin C and vitamin E act synergistically to suppress a sunburn response.(2)

Another supplement, beta-carotene, has been studied for its effects as a sunscreen. Data published from a study at the University of Arizona suggest that natural carotenoid supplementation at 90 mg daily for 24 weeks provides modest protection against UVA- and UVB-induced erythema.(3)

Taking these three supplements daily for a week before a beach vacation or during the summer can be a wonderful and safe way to protect yourself from sunburn.

Curative topical therapies

Natural topical therapies have been shown to be helpful for sunburn. A study from the University of Western Ontario showed that applying a cream containing 5% vitamin E immediately after sunburn significantly reduced the necrosis of skin’s keratinocytes, commonly referred to as “peeling”. This positive effect was also found when use was delayed up to 8 hours after exposure.(4) This is very good news for those who find in the evening that their overexposure occurred earlier in the day.

A variety of herbs are said to have a calming effect. Applying sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) oil 3 to 4 times a day has proven to be both a natural sunscreen and a sunburn therapy. Sea buckthorn oil is a natural product that contains vitamin C, malic acid, flavaniodes, carotenoids and essential fatty acids. These components protect cells from damage caused by lipid peroxidation. (5) Interestingly, the oil concentrate has been used to treat radiation burns and bed sores caused by radiation therapy. Sea buckthorn increased the rate of skin regeneration and accelerated the formation of granulation tissue in wounds. (6) Other herbs useful for topical treatment of sunburn include 5-10% jojoba extract, (7) jujube oil, (8) and a semi-solid preparation of 20-30% dried poplar buds.

Beware of plant photosensitizers

Consumers need to be aware of potential complications such as photosensitivity associated with both natural and pharmaceutical products with even moderate exposure to the sun. St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) can cause photosensitization when taken orally at 1800 mg/day for 15 days (9) and can cause phototoxicity at a dose of 0.5 mg/kg per day, although this is a fairly high dose (10) Photosensitization has been observed with both topical and large consumption of herbs derived from plants belonging to the Apiaceae family.(11) The extensive list of common spices and vegetables of this plant family includes parsley, wild carrot, parsnip, anise , Coriander , Fennel, Lovage, Bishop’s Herb, Angelica Root, Pimpinella Root, Guta Kola and Dong Quai. Interestingly, eating common figs (Ficus carica) can also cause photodematitis in sun-sensitive individuals. (12) Patients should be reminded that taking certain medications, such as sulfa and tetracycline, are also known to cause photosensitivity.

One last note

Lack of sun exposure can also lead to significant health problems. Sunlight on the skin converts 7-dehydrocholesterol into previtamin D, which is further processed by the kidneys into 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D, the active form of the vitamin. An article in the New England Journal of Medicine reports that about a third of men and half of women over 60 are deficient in vitamin D, the nutrient essential to maintaining healthy bones. (13) Spending 20 to 30 minutes in full sun, without sunscreen, three times a week allows the body to produce much-needed vitamin D.

A very recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition states that vitamin D is non-toxic at intakes much higher than previously considered unsafe. “This risk assessment was needed to show that more recent evidence supports the conclusion that vitamin D is much safer than previously thought, particularly given all of the new research showing benefits of vitamin D in higher amounts than consumers traditionally take ,” lead author John Hathcock told In fact, the Council for Responsible Nutrition Scientists says this could be increased to 10,000 IU (250 micrograms per day). (14)

Common sense, moderate sun exposure and an awareness of potentially phototoxic herbal remedies will go a long way in promoting your skin’s health and making summer fun an enjoyable one rather than an eventful one.


(1) Eberlein-König B., Placzek M., Pryzbilla. Protective effect against sunburn by combined systemic ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and D-alpha-tocoperhol (vitamin E). J Am Acad. dermatol. 1998 Jan;38(1):45-8.

(2) Fuchs J, Kern H. Modulation of UV light-induced shinitis by d-alpha-tocoperhol and L-ascorbic acid: a clinical study using sun-simulated radiation. Free Radical Biol Med. 1998 Dec:25(9):1006-12.

(3) LeeJ; Jiang S; Levine N; Watson R.R. A carotenoid supplement reduces erythema in human skin after simulated sun exposure. Proc Soc Exp Biol Med 2000 Feb;223(2):170-4.

(4) Trevithick, JR; ia Reduction of sunburn damage to the skin by topical application of vitamin E acetate after exposure to ultraviolet B radiation: effect of delaying application or reducing the concentration of applied vitamin E acetate. Scanning Microsc 1993 Dec;7(4):1269-81.

(5) Wang Y, Lu Y, Liu X, et. Al. the protective effect of Hippophae rhamnoides L. on hyperlipidemic serum-cultured smooth muscle cells in vitro [article in Chinese]. Chung Kuo Chung Yao Tsa Chih 1992; 17(10): 601, 624-26, inside back cover.

(6) Gruenwald J, et al. PDR for herbal medicinal products. 1st edition. Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics Company, Inc., 1998.

(7) Leung AY, Foster S. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs and Cosmetics. 2nd Edition. New York, NY: Jon Wiley & Sons, 1996.

(8) Ibid.

(9) Upton R., ed. St. John’s Wort, Hypercium perforatum: quality control, analytical and therapeutic monograph. Santa Cruz, CA: American Pharmacopoeia of Herbs; 1997;1-32.

(10) Gulick RM, McAuliffe V, Holden-wiltse J, et al. Phase I trials of hypericin, the active ingredient in St. John’s Wort, as an antiretroviral agent in HIV-infected adults. AIDS Clinical Trials Group Protocols 150 and 258. Ann Int Med 1999;130(6):510-4.

(11) Blumenthal M, et al. The Complete Monographs of the German Commission E: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicinal Products. Trans. S. Klein. Boston, MA: American Botanical Council, 1998.

(12) Brinker F. Herb contraindications and drug interactions. 2nd Edition Sandy, OR: Eclectic Medical Publications, 1998.

(13) Utiger, RD. NEJM, 1998: Vol.338(12): 828 editorial.

(14) Hathcock JN, Shao A, Vieth R, Heaney R. Risk Assessment for Vitamin D” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. January 2007, Volume 85, pages 6-18.

Thanks to Sherri Tenpenny, DO | #Protect #Skin #Summer #Sun #Supplements


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