Why You Should Be Pairing Your SPF With Antioxidants

Not only is wearing sun protection an absolute daily must but knowing how to properly practice sunscreen layering is necessary too. Since we can never protect ourselves too much from sun damage, especially during summer, it is worth considering pairing our sunscreen with other products that also work to shield the skin. That's because aside from requiring frequent reapplication, even a broad-spectrum sunscreen has its limitations. For example, a product with an SPF as high as 50 can block only up to 98% of skin cancer-causing UVB rays, according to Medical News Today

As compounds that neutralize free radicals and keep them from causing severe harm to our cells, antioxidants help fill in the gaps in a sunscreen's skin protection powers. Aside from delivering the soothing and anti-aging benefits they have become known for, research also shows that they can enhance a sunscreen's potency and reduce damage caused by UV rays. "Sunscreens prevent ultraviolet radiation from entering our skin, but the UV radiation that does manage to penetrate sets off a chain reaction of damaging events," cosmetic dermatologist Dr. Kenneth Howe explained to Good Housekeeping. "Antioxidants disrupt this chain reaction, protecting our skin from damage." In fact, specific antioxidants have been discovered to have photoprotection capabilities themselves. When combined with SPF, they can provide additive protection against both UVA and UVB damage by neutralizing whatever gets past the sunscreen barrier. 

Harness antioxidants' skin-protecting potency

Although consuming fresh and healthy foods remain the ideal way for the body to receive its recommended amount of antioxidants, topical application of products formulated with these compounds also has proven efficacy. In fact, some of the best-studied antioxidants listed by Verywell Health have become buzzwords that skincare enthusiasts are now more than familiar with: vitamin C, vitamin E, niacinamide, retinol, coenzyme Q10, resveratrol, and botanical extracts or phytoextracts. If you check the ingredients list on the products you use in your beauty routine, chances are you'll find them there.

The best way to maximize this powerful skincare combo is to buy sunscreen that already includes these free-radical-fighting compounds in its formula. Korean sunscreen is a good choice, thanks to the South Korean cosmetics industry's up-to-date skincare technology and formulations. It is all right to create separate steps for their respective applications too. You can apply an antioxidant-infused serum on bare skin first then put on your trusted sunscreen afterward. Why serum? According to Beauty Tap, it's the best-recommended formulation for getting a concentrated amount of antioxidants. It also allows for quick absorption and optimized efficacy.  

Before adding anything to your regimen, however, research the benefits (and possible side effects) of any new skincare ingredient first. Better yet, consult your dermatologist to get expert advice on what to use. That way, you also get to address your skin's specific issues while protecting it from the sun more effectively. 

What ingredients to look for

Unsure which antioxidants to pair with your SPF? Take notes from a 2023 study published in Antioxidants that discovered the most frequently used ones among the formulations of hundreds of commercially marketed sunscreens: vitamins E and C, oxothiazolidine, ferulic acid, ectoin, and niacinamide. 

The moisturizing, anti-inflammatory vitamin E nourishes the skin barrier while the acidic content of vitamin C prompts the skin to produce collagen and elastin. Together, the two make a great team for preventing UV damage. Meanwhile, oxothiazolidine, an ingredient that's usually listed as "ingredient 27" in sunscreens, is easily absorbed by the skin and offers protection against infrared and UV radiation. It also releases taurine to combat oxidative stress in the skin. 

Known for its anti-aging properties, the plant-based ferulic acid increases the efficacy of vitamins A, C, and E, according to Healthline. Meanwhile, ectoin hydrates the skin by binding to water and maintaining skin moisture, as board-certified dermatologist Dr. Stefani Kappel explained to CNN. Niacinamide is well-known for preventing skin cancer and for addressing acne, skin inflammation, and signs of aging (per Self). Whatever sunscreen-boosting antioxidant you choose (with the guidance of your dermatologist), make the most of its benefits by applying it not just as a pre-SPF step in the morning but at night too. That way, it works its skin-barrier-enhancing magic while you sleep.