SPF Supplements

They’re no substitute for sunscreen lotions, but research shows these nutrients offer some protection from the sizzling sun.

They’re no substitute for sunscreen lotions, but research shows these nutrients offer some protection from the sizzling sun


It’s advice you hear every summer—before heading out for a day in the hot summer sun, apply sunscreen to all of your exposed parts. Yet, there are days when you simply forget. And that can leave you with a very nasty sunburn.

Aside from the temporary pain and redness, a sunburn can cause long-term damage to the skin. It’s so serious that the National Cancer Institute estimates that 40 to 50 percent of Americans who reach age 65 will have skin cancer at least once, and overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation is the primary cause. Although more people are aware of the potential hazards of UV radiation today, the prevalence of skin cancer—basal cell, squamous cell, and deadly melanoma—remains high.

Why is this life-giving orb so hard on our skin? The sun emits two types of skin-damaging light, UVA and UVB. Known as the “tanning rays,” UVA speeds up the breakdown of collagen and elastin, the compounds that keep our skin soft and supple. But UVA rays also damage skin cells called keratinocytes in the deeper layers of the epidermis, where most skin cancers occur. UVB rays are responsible for that painful sunburn and can damage the skin’s DNA by activating a flurry of free radical activity.

While a broad-spectrum sunscreen is still the best way to guard against the sun’s harmful rays, it’s smart to have a backup plan. Fortunately, Mother Nature provides some exceptional nutrients that can offer some protection.


Topically, resveratrol, an extract from red grapes, offers some UV protection. Look for it in MyChelle’s Apple Brightening Serum and other products.

Grape Seed

Grape seed extract’s antioxidant power is 50 times greater than that of vitamin E and 20 times more potent than vitamin C. It also boasts anti-inflammatory and antimutagenic properties, as well as the ability to protect against the harmful effects of radiation in animal studies.

Yet these abilities aren’t grape seeds’ main claim to fame. Grape seeds contain substances called proanthocyanidins, commonly referred to as oligomeric proanthocyanidins. These water-soluble flavonoids help to strengthen and protect our cell membranes from the oxidative damage caused by free radicals. Without this protection, our skin begins to prematurely show the signs of aging from overexposure to the sun’s harmful rays. According to researchers at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., grape seed extract applied topically boosted the skin’s natural SPF (sun protection factor).

Studies show that grape seed extract, especially when combined with other antioxidant-rich compounds (such as white tea and tomato extract), promotes youthful skin by enhancing the health of skin cells and protecting elasticity and flexibility. Specifically, these skin-friendly seeds increase the synthesis of collagen and elastin. Grape seed is so effective that when postmenopausal women took a supplement containing the extract for six months, they experienced significant improvement in crow’s feet, wrinkles around the mouth, age spots, sagging, and even the dark circles under their eyes compared to women taking a placebo.


A two-week study showed that the more lutein and zeaxanthin consumed in foods including spinach and kale, the greater the UVB protection. These nutrients are also widely available in supplement form.
Beta-carotene has been shown to protect against sunburn. However, research suggests that it is necessary to “build up” protection by supplementing a minimum of 10 weeks. After 10 weeks, sun-protective effects increase with each additional month of supplementation.

In another study, people who consumed lycopene-rich tomato paste had 33% more protection against sunburn compared to a control group after 12 weeks. The level of protection was equal to a sun protection factor of 1.3 (low, but significant).


Preliminary research from Japan suggests that astaxanthin may defend against the UVA-induced photodamage. Extracted from a microalgae grown on the Kona Coast of Hawaii, astaxanthin is an antioxidant-rich carotenoid that not only neutralizes free radicals, it works with other antioxidants such as vitamin C and E, boosting their effectiveness.

Green Tea

Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham found that green tea helps prevent suppression of the immune system during sun exposure. And, whether you drink it or apply it topically, green tea can help prevent UV-induced inflammation and quickly repairs the DNA damage triggered by UV light.

Sunburn Soothers

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to minimize sun damage if a day at the beach or amusement park leaves you looking like an over-ripe tomato. If you’re seeing red, reach for the aloe vera gel. While this remarkable herb is well-known for its ability to cool a sunburn, one double-blind study of 40 volunteers by the University Medical Center in Freiburg, Germany, found that topically-applied aloe also reduces UV-induced redness and inflammation. Other research shows that applying the gel to second degree burns speeds the healing of skin tissue even more effectively than antibacterial burn creams.

aloe vera

Calendula is another botanical anti-inflammatory that can ease the pain of sunburn and undo some of the sun-induced damage to your skin. Brazilian researchers have discovered that this herb can protect against UVB-induced oxidative stress thanks to its high polyphenol content. Calendula can be used topically in cream or salve form, or taken as a tea.

But remember, while both aloe vera and calendula can help repair some of the damage overexposure brings, it’s still best to take a proactive approach and protect your skin with sunscreens and the right nutrition.

Good Buys

reserveage organics resveratrol is made with organic, skin-protective grape seed extract, as well grape skins and stems for the added benefit of anti-aging trans-resveratrol.

country life carotenoid complex is derived naturally from dunaliella salina, a unique species of algae that is rich in beta-carotene and other carotenoids including lutein and lycopene.

the vitamin shoppe astaxanthin combines the powerful antioxidant astaxanthin plus beta-carotene and lutein for a formula that effectively scavenges free radicals and protects cells and tissues.

Life extension mega green tea extract provides the concentrated, UV-protecctive polyphenols of green tea without the caffeine, in convenient, vegetarian capsules.


Related Articles


Safe Sun Protection

Many sunscreens contain chemicals that could be even more harmful than UV rays—what you need to know for healthy fun in the sun.