December 9, 2013

Internal Sunscreen

I have a soft spot for sunscreen. That and pretty shoes.

I've definitely discussed sunscreen plenty, and doled out recommendation after recommendation. And I'm sure you already know consuming certain foods high in antioxidants and free radical scavengers can aid in sun protection. But have you heard of the pill you can take?

Astaxanthin is a component of red algae which contains higher levels of anthocyanins, antioxidants, carotenoids and leutenoids than any other tested substance. 
It is produced by the microalgae Haematococcus pluvialis when its water supply evaporates, to protect itself from ultraviolet radiation. Astaxanthin displays impressive credentials. It is 65 times more powerful at scavenging free radicals than Vitamin C. It's also 550 times more effective than vitamin E at singlet oxygen quenching, a particular type of oxidation.

Astaxanthin has been shown to protect skin when applied topically. Astaxanthin applied to hairless mice exposed to radiation for 18 weeks showed undamaged collagen as compared to the control group [1]. Researchers noted that astaxanthin could prevent UV-induced lipid peroxidation, sunburn, phototoxicity and photoallergy. As a result, many skin care lines have picked it up. MVO uses it in their Pacific Line and sunscreens. Suntegrity and Sunumbra also feature it. But there is  some research that indicates it may also be able to protect skin when taken internally.
In one study, hairless mice were fed different combinations of astaxanthin, beta-carotene and retinol for four months. After irradiation, astaxanthin alone or in combination with retinol was effective at preventing photoaging of the skin [2].

In 1998, astaxanthin was found to be 100 times more powerful than beta-carotene and 1000 times more powerful than lutein in preventing UVA light-induced oxidative stress [3].

The Journal of Dermatological Science published research demonstrating that astaxanthin is able to prevent human DNA alternation induced by UVA light exposure [4].

In another investigation, the skin's resistance to UVA and UVB  was measured before and after astaxanthin supplementation. After three weeks of taking 4mg each day, subjects showed a dramatic increase in the length of time necessary for UV radiation to redden their skin [5].
I'm curious to see where this research goes. 

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[1] Arakane, K. (2001) "Superior Skin Protection via Astaxanthin", KOSE Corporation.  
[2] Savoure, N., Briand, G., Amory-Touz, M., Combre, A., Maudet, M. (1995). "Vitamin A status and metabolism of cutaneous polyamines in the hairless mouse after UV irradiation: action of beta-carotene and astaxanthin." International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research. 65(2):79-86.
[3] O'Connor, I., O'Brien, N. (1998) "Modulation of UVA light-induced oxidative stress by β-carotene, lutein and astaxanthin in cultured fibroblasts." Journal of Dermatological Science. 16(13) 226-230.
[4] Lyons, N., O'Brien, N. (2002) "Modulatory effects of an algal extract containing astaxanthin on UVA-irradiated cells in culture." Journal of Dermatological Science. 30(1) 73-84.
[5] Cyanotech Corporation "Clinical Trial Indicates Sun Protection from BioAstin Supplement"

Image Courtesy of:
1. Flanders Innovation Hub for Sustainable Chemistry


  1. Nice Article, Charlotte :)

  2. Sorry this is humphrey

    1. Glad you like the post! Hope you had fun in Hawaii!!

  3. I think that a sunscreen we can take internally is a really good option. I have beautiful dark skin and sometimes I neglect wearing sunscreen because I don't like the heavy feeling of it on my skin but then, sometimes I suffer for not wearing it.