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Enjoying Your Day in the Sun: Defending Skin from the Inside Out

By: Kimberly Decker
Posted: May 4, 2011, from the May 2011 issue of GCI Magazine.

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The upshot is that exogenous sunscreens, though widely and wisely touted as a tool in the sun-protection kit, may leave the public with a false sense of security against sun damage. Only by augmenting our use of sunscreen with additional measures can wraparound protection be enjoyed, and evidence from the world of nutrition science shows that one of the best additional measures may be buttressing the skin’s own defense mechanisms. The not-so-secret weapon for enhancing the skin’s endogenous defense is to consume plenty of antioxidants, nutrients found primarily in colorful fruits and vegetables and uniquely suited to protect against oxidation’s assault.

Some antioxidants—particularly the carotenoids—are structured to preferentially absorb the most harmful wavelengths of UV light, quenching free radicals, protecting the skin, strengthening collagen and elastin, stanching inflammation and DNA damage, and altogether putting the brakes on photo-oxidative stress. By “stockpiling” our cellular stores of carotenoid antioxidants, either through diet or supplementation, we concentrate these phytonutrients where we need them most, thus priming our skin to protect itself. “We have to supply the body and skin at all ages to assist it in fighting ROS, DNA damage and environmental assault,” says Udi Alroy, vice president, global marketing and sales, LycoRed. “By assisting the daily fighting mechanism, we are actually freeing the skin to create its own defense mechanisms.”

Food, beverage and supplement manufacturers have seized on this emerging science to create whole new families of functional foods and beverages intended to protect not only skin health, but its appearance, as well. Call them nutricosmetics, cosmeceuticals or plain-old beauty foods, they provide “beauty from within” by shoring up the skin’s endogenous supplies of light-fighting antioxidants. Popular delivery formats include beverages, bars, gums, chews and supplements that promise to increase skin density, elasticity, thickness and smoothness.

Broad-spectrum Protection It’s no coincidence that of the 600-plus carotenoids found in fruits and vegetables, 20 also occur naturally in human plasma and tissues. These include lycopene, alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lutein, phytoene, phytofluene, astaxanthin and zeaxanthin, and the organ in which they are seen doing some of their best work is the skin.

Consider alpha- and beta-carotene. Their ability to quench singlet oxygen complements the phyto-protective activity of other carotenoids, and they have a demonstrated ability to reduce collagen breakdown by down regulating the activity of the enzyme collagenase.