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Should you choose a sunscreen with antioxidants? Here’s what the research says

The right ingredients may offer your skin additional benefits.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 31, 2023 • 8 min read
Medically reviewed by Erin Pate, NP-C
Applying Sunscreen
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 31, 2023 • 8 min read
Medically reviewed by Erin Pate, NP-C
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

If you’ve ever eaten raisins, blueberries, or blackberries, you’ve consumed antioxidants. These substances, which slow down or help prevent damage from free radicals, are found in many fruits and vegetables that we eat every day—but you may be able to reap their benefits in other ways too. 

Research shows that incorporating antioxidants into sunscreen may enhance its effects and provide additional protection for your skin. 

Here, we’ll explain exactly how antioxidants can impact your skin, whether or not it’s worth it to buy sunscreen with these ingredients, and what to look for on product labels.

What are antioxidants?

Antioxidants can help combat oxidative stress that comes from free radicals. They’re naturally found in a variety of fruits and vegetables, as well as some whole grains, nuts, and spices. 

Although our bodies produce certain antioxidants, we require external sources to meet our complete antioxidant needs.¹ We can get these through food or supplements. 

Free radicals are naturally found in our bodies and are an essential component of many cellular processes; however, too many of them can lead to health risks.² Oxidative stress from free radicals can cause cell damage, which can contribute to health conditions like cancer.³

Despite their neutralizing effects on free radicals, research does not yet show that consuming a large amount of antioxidants prevents disease on its own, or reduces the risk of contracting diseases.⁴ However, they can have positive effects on the skin, which is why you may see them on labels for products like broad-spectrum sunscreens. In fact, one survey found that 47.5% of the sunscreens analyzed contained at least one antioxidant.⁵

Potential positive effects of sunscreen with antioxidants

Below are some potential benefits of using sunscreen with antioxidants.

It may reduce UV damage

Research has shown that topical application of antioxidants, like vitamin C, may help reduce the effects of UV damage and solar radiation. In fact, studies have found that the top layer of the human skin (epidermal) has a higher capacity for antioxidants than the middle layer (dermal).⁶ To offer your skin a rich boost of hydration and the benefits of the antioxidant aloe vera, try using The Rich Moisturizer after a day in the sun.

It may prevent sun-induced skin rashes

Studies show that beta-carotene, an antioxidant found in carrots and other plants, can help prevent polymorphous light eruptions.⁷ This condition is a rash from sun exposure that can lead to bumps and inflammation.

It may improve skin redness from radiation

A multitude of antioxidants, including pomegranate extract, green tea, selenium, and vitamins A, C, and E have been shown to help improve the level of skin redness caused by UV radiation. After four weeks of antioxidant use, subjects also absorbed fewer free radicals.⁸

It may have photoprotective properties

When incorporated into sunscreen formulas, research shows that antioxidants can reduce sunburn cell development. Topically applied antioxidants may also increase the skin’s defense mechanisms.⁹

It may boost sunscreen formulas

Not only can antioxidants help with protection against the harmful effects of UV damage, but they may also help combat oxidative stress caused by pollution and infrared radiation.¹⁰ And since your lips need sunscreen too, try applying a protectant like The Lip Balm with SPF 30 daily for defense against UVA and UVB rays.

It may repair DNA

The antioxidant niacinamide, a form of vitamin B3, has been shown to trigger DNA repair in skin cells when they are damaged by UV rays. Niacinamide may also combat signs of premature aging and hyperpigmentation.¹¹

It may target different types of oxidative stress

We know that topical application of antioxidants can help combat external sources of damage from UV rays and solar radiation. However, antioxidants in sunscreen and skincare products may also help neutralize oxidative stress from internal sources as well.¹²

Potential downsides of sunscreen with antioxidants

Using sunscreen with antioxidants may be beneficial for your skin, but it may be a good idea to also keep these potential negative effects in mind.

Avoid combining with certain medications

Although topical absorption is thought to be low when used on limited areas, if you’re taking medications, make sure to consult your doctor before applying sunscreen with antioxidants with any new product, and especially before adding in oral supplements containing antioxidants. It's a good idea to consult a licensed dermatology provider before use.

Antioxidants can’t replace sunscreen

While antioxidants can give your sunscreen a major boost in effectiveness, make sure to apply sunscreen daily—antioxidants or not. One study determined that it’s the UV filters in these formulas, rather than the antioxidants, that provide most of the free radical protection.¹³ A broad-spectrum formula like The Sunscreen can effectively reflect UVA and UVB rays with a silky, soft-focus finish that doesn’t clog pores. 

How to use sunscreen with antioxidants

It may be difficult to identify antioxidants on a sunscreen label if you’ve never sought them out before. It’s a good idea to do your own research and talk to a licensed dermatology provider, like the ones at Curology, before incorporating new ingredients into your skincare regimen. But to get you started, check for some of these common antioxidant ingredients:¹⁴

  • Vitamin E.

  • Vitamin C.

  • Oxothiazolidine.

  • Ferulic acid and its derivatives.

  • Ectoine.

  • Niacinamide.

  • Glycyrrhetinic acid.

  • Beta-carotene.

  • Caffeic acid.

  • Gallic acid.

  • Hydroxyacetophenone.

Before you purchase a sunscreen product with antioxidants, you may also want to keep these tips in mind.

  • Look for small doses of antioxidants: These substances have been deemed safest for use in small doses. They may also be the most effective when combined in a product formula with other types of antioxidants.¹⁵

  • Look for a mineral (physical) sunscreen: Some ingredients in chemical sunscreen formulas, like octocrylene, have actually been shown to create free radicals. One study found that the longer these ingredients stay on your skin, the more free radicals they can generate.¹⁶ To stay on the safe side, check for a mineral version with titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.

Curology can help with sun protection

Sunscreen with antioxidants may provide a number of extra skincare benefits, although it may be most effective to use a mineral sunscreen. As always, it’s important to do your research and talk to the experts before incorporating new ingredients into your routine—that’s where Curology comes in. 

Our licensed dermatology providers can answer questions you may have about antioxidants, sunscreen, and beyond, and provide personalized product recommendations that target your skin concerns. Curology can help treat signs of photoaging, including dark spots, fine lines, wrinkles, and skin texture.

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

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To get started, just snap a few photos and send them to us. We’ll take a look at your skin and medical history and, if Curology is right for you, send you an all-in-one prescription formula within just a few days. And the best part? It gets shipped directly to your door, so you don’t even have to go out in the sun to pick it up. The first step is to simply sign up for a 30-day trial* today. 

FAQs

What is the best antioxidant to use with sunscreen?

Everyone’s skin is different, so there isn’t a singular antioxidant that is best to use in sunscreen. However, vitamins C and E are the most common ones that you’re likely to see on product labels. 

Many people already include products containing vitamin C in their skincare routines, so it may be a natural progression to use sunscreens with the ingredient. Just take care to only use one product with the antioxidant in your morning regimen so you don’t overdo it.

Do antioxidants really work on skin?

Studies show that antioxidants have the potential to provide a plethora of benefits to the skin. These include improving skin redness, neutralizing oxidative stress, and giving sunscreen additional photoprotective properties. As we also covered, antioxidants may even help repair DNA.

What type of sunscreen is the healthiest?

Physical, or mineral, sunscreens may be preferable to chemical sunscreens, since certain chemical formulas may produce free radicals as they absorb UV rays, as we discussed. There’s also some concern that certain ingredients in chemical sunscreens may disrupt endocrine systems, although more research is needed to draw definite conclusions.¹⁷

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1. National Cancer Institute. Antioxidants and Cancer Prevention. (2017, February 6).

  2. National Cancer Institute. Antioxidants and Cancer Prevention. Ibid.

  3. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Antioxidants: In Depth. (October 2013).

  4. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Antioxidants: In Depth. Ibid.

  5. Jesus, A., et al. Antioxidants in Sunscreens: Which and What For? Antioxidants. (2023, January 6).

  6. Addor, F.A.S., et al. Antioxidants in dermatology. An Bras Dermatol. (May-June 2017).

  7. Addor, F.A.S., et al. Antioxidants in dermatology. An Bras Dermatol. Ibid.

  8. Addor, F.A.S., et al. Antioxidants in dermatology. An Bras Dermatol. Ibid.

  9. Jesus, A., et al. Antioxidants in Sunscreens: Which and What For? Antioxidants. Ibid.

  10. Krutmann, J., et al. Daily photoprotection to prevent photoaging. Photodermatology, Photoimmunology & Photomedicine. (2021, April 25).

  11. Jesus, A., et al. Antioxidants in Sunscreens: Which and What For? Antioxidants. Ibid.

  12. Chen, L., et al. The role of antioxidants in photoprotection: A critical review. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. (November 2012).

  13. Wang, S.Q., et al. Ex vivo evaluation of radical sun protection factor in popular sunscreens with antioxidants. J Am Acad Dermatol. (September 2011).

  14. Jesus, A., et al. Antioxidants in Sunscreens: Which and What For? Antioxidants. Ibid.

  15. Addor, F.A.S., et al. Antioxidants in dermatology. An Bras Dermatol. Ibid.

  16. Hanson, K.M., et al. Sunscreen enhancement of UV-induced reactive oxygen species in the skin. Free Radical Biology and Medicine. (2006, October 15).

  17. Suh, S., et al. The Banned Sunscreen Ingredients and Their Impact on Human Health: A Systematic ReviewInt J Dermatol. (2020, November 7).

Erin Pate is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner at Curology. She earned her Masters of Science in Nursing at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, FL.

*Cancel at any time. Subject to consultation. Results may vary. 

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Our policy on product links:Empowering you with knowledge is our top priority. Our reviews of other brands’ products in this post are not paid endorsements—but they do meet our medically fact-checked standards for ingredients (at the time of publication).
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Erin Pate Nurse Practitioner, NP-C

Erin Pate, NP-C

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