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Because of my fair complexion, going outside for a day in the sun can involve a lot of planning, from picking the right sunscreen to buying giant sun hats to seeking out the shade to hide in. If I could take a pill that would boost my natural protection against the sun’s UV rays (that definitely worked), I absolutely would. Recently, there have been claims from companies making products like SunAssure ($29.95, sunassure.com) that their products will do just that.
But I’m pretty skeptical, partially because the FDA doesn’t have to review dietary supplements before they hit the market, and only takes action if the supplements are a danger to consumers. This means the individual companies are responsible for determining safety and for deciding whether there is adequate evidence to back their ingredients and subsequent marketing (FDA).
So can a combination of antioxidants really give you as much protection as slathering on the SPF topically? Short answer: No, but it might help make up for certain vitamins and minerals you aren’t getting enough of in your diet that are a part of the body’s natural sun protection. But they aren’t for everyone.
And not matter what, you still need topical sunscreen.
What Vitamins in SunAssure Contribute to Sun Protection?
The trick behind these ingredients is, in part, the inclusion of vitamins, namely A, C, and E. These are vitamins that people should strive to get every day in their diets from fruits and vegetables. They have a lot of uses in the body, but in terms of the skin they have some pretty particular uses.
Vitamin C and E can help to slightly boost protection in the skin. In the plant world these carotenoids, such as beta-carotene and lycopene, help to give fruits and vegetables their color. They also help give your skin a glow and boost skin’s natural protection from UV-light (PLoS One, NPR). A 2002 study explain that these work to protect skin by reducing its sensitivity to UV-irradiation, resulting in less erythema (skin redness), and helping to prevent photodamage, because they’re antioxidants and free-radical scavengers (Journal of Nutrition). This results in less UV damage and fewer signs of photoaging, which researchers found in 2010 and 2011 studies, respectively (British Journal of Dermatology, Experimental Dermatology).
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Vitamin A is thought to have chemopreventative effects by virtue of stopping UV-induced actinic damage and causing a regression of UV-induced lesions. These effects were noted in a 2004 study (Clinical Cancer Research). Orally administered vitamin A was also found to raise levels of 13-cis-retinoic acid and all- trans-retinoic acid and also results in an up-regulation of dermal cell retinoid receptors. This can also help reverse signs of visible aging by deactivating the matrix metalloproteinase that breaks down collagen.
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Are these Vitamin Supplements Necessary? Could They Be Too Much?
But do you need supplements to get these benefits? Not necessarily if you already have a diet rich in these vitamins or are already taking supplements including them. Vitamins don’t work on the principle that the more your take the better the effects. There are certain amounts of them that the body requires to function optimally, so having too few of these crucial vitamins is clearly a problem. But so is having too many. And while some just leave the body, others build up and cause problems.
We know that vitamin C, for example, has a saturation point; so concentrations in the skin won’t increase indefinitely (Oregon State University). The excess will leave the body in urine. But you might not be so lucky with other vitamins. Taking too much of certain vitamins (one of these is vitamin A) or vitamin combinations can cause an overdoses. Multiple vitamin overdose can result in problems with the heart and blood, the nervous system, and muscles and joints, just to name a few (MedlinePlus). Individual vitamin overdoses will result in different problems in the body.
As with any medication or supplement, it’s important to discuss taking it with your doctor, who knows your personal medical history. He or she can discuss the effects the supplements might have on your overall health and any potential interactions with medications you’re already taking.
Zinc in Skin instead of on it?
The presence of zinc oxide immediately caught my eye in this supplement. Zinc oxide is one of the best physical-mineral sunscreens, but it works topically by flat-out block UV-rays from getting in, so I wondered what research had found on using zinc oxide orally. While it’s definitely promising to boost skin’s protection slightly, it’s not going to have anywhere near the same protective effects as zinc oxide-based sunscreen.
One of the ways it prevents UV damage internally is by working as an antioxidant, preventing oxidative damage in cells (Biological Trace Elements Research). A 1997 study on mice showed that zinc supplements helps to prevent DNA damage caused by UVB-irradiation (Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology).
But like the supplement’s other ingredients, zinc isn’t one that you want to go above the daily-recommended value on. It can hinder the absorption of copper and depress the immune system if taken excessively (Food Cures).
Should you take SunAssure to help protect your skin from the sun? While it might add to skin’s natural defenses, “sunscreen” pills would be a bit of a misnomer. SunAssure doesn’t give you the same shield from UV-rays as topical sunscreen, and you should continue to wear topically applied sunscreen regularly (and reapply often), but it could help keep your body’s natural protection working optimally.
But SunAssure may not be for everyone. If you’re already taking a multivitamin or supplements that contain the same vitamins and/or minerals, then taking these might impact your health negatively due to excesses of certain vitamins or minerals. And it’s possible to get some of the effects of these supplements if you have a diet rich in foods with plenty of the right vitamins and minerals.
The bottom line is that SunAssure can help supplement what your diet might not be giving you in terms of certain vitamins and minerals. These are a part of the body’s natural sun protection. But this isn’t the same thing as sunscreen, and it shouldn’t be used as a substitute. If you do decide to use supplements to boost sun protection, remember to talk to your doctor about it. And stop using them immediately if you suffer negative effects or symptoms of a multiple vitamin overdose.