Why You Should Pair Your Sunscreen With Antioxidants

Why You Should Pair Your Sunscreen With Antioxidants featured image
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From dermatologists to cosmetic chemists, the experts we’ve interviewed over the years all support the same pairing: sunscreen and antioxidants. Whether your sunscreen formula includes antioxidants, or you layer your SPF with an antioxidant serum, the result is enhanced protection and healthier skin. Here’s why you should pair the two, according to experts and science.

Featured Experts:

  • Loretta Ciraldo, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Dr. Loretta skincare based in Miami
  • Nancy J. Samolitis, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of FACILE based in LA
  • Julian Sass, PhD, a cosmetic scientist and product developer based in Canada

The Benefit of Combining Sunscreen and Antioxidants

“One of the major ways that sunlight damages skin is through free-radical formation and skin damage,” says Dr. Ciraldo. “This causes both unwanted visible aging and skin cancers. SPF actives work to shield our skin from sunlight penetrating into our skin cells. But, there is always some amount that will penetrate. The antioxidants help to prevent free-radical formation and damage.” 

Dr. Sass agrees, adding that “antioxidants also help reduce UV-induced erythema, aka redness. This can result in an increased SPF value for the sunscreen. This information comes directly from ingredient suppliers, and therefore I cannot share sources because they are not publicly available.” However, it’s a really interesting fact, and all the more reason to marry your SPF with antioxidants one way or another.

What the Science Says

Dr. Ciraldo says the first data on sunscreen and antioxidants came from the late Dr. Sheldon Pinnell, the Chair of Duke University Dermatology and founding scientist of SkinCeuticals. “He discovered that if you apply vitamin C in concentrations between 5 and 10 percent and then expose (animal) skin to sunburn-inducing doses of UVB, the vitamin C will prevent the formation of the ‘sunburn cell.’ This is a cell that dies when a sunburn-inducing dose of UVB is applied to the skin. So, we started to categorize vitamin C as photoprotective, but not an actual sunscreen by FDA criteria. Then a published study sponsored by L’Oréal showed that SPF with antioxidants was more photoprotective than the same formula that didn’t contain antioxidants.”

According to a 2023 study, “ultraviolet (UV) radiation promotes the generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and nitrogen species (RNS), resulting in skin damage. Cosmetic industries have adopted a strategy to incorporate antioxidants in sunscreen formulations to prevent or minimize UV-induced oxidative damage, boost photoprotection effectiveness, and mitigate skin photoaging. The six antioxidants found in the majority of sunscreens tested include vitamins C and E, ferulic acid, niacinamide, ectoin, and oxothiazolidine. Vitamin E and its derivatives were used significantly more than the other five antioxidants. Vitamin C had the second highest usage frequency.

Dr. Samolitis says, “Vitamin C has been shown in multiple medical publications to prevent and reverse cellular damage. This damage is caused by oxidative stress from the sun and other environmental factors. Because SPF does not block 100 percent of UV-induced damage, pairing it with an antioxidant will help to optimize skin safety.”

5 Sunscreens With Antioxidants to Try

1 / 5

ISDIN Eryfotona Actinica SPF 50+ ($70)

“I love the ISDIN Eryfotona line of sunscreens because they contain high levels of SPF combined with antioxidants and DNA repair enzymes,” says Dr. Samolitis.



2 / 5

Dr. Loretta Universal Glow Daily Defense Mineral Sunscreen Fluid SPF 40 ($60)

“This is a mineral-only formulation that combines the antioxidant Lipochroman with marine-derived ectoin,” says Dr. Ciraldo. “Lipochroman is the strongest antioxidant for antioxidant potency, as measured on the TBARS assay. Ectoin is being dubbed a ‘super ingredient’ for its multitasking abilities as a hydrator, blue light protector and anti-pollution ingredient.”



3 / 5

Paula’s Choice Skin Restoring Moisturizer with SPF 50 ($38)

“This is one of my favorite U.S. sunscreens with antioxidants,” says Dr. Sass. It blends niacinamide, shea butter and brightening licorice root with SPF protection to help prevent signs of aging. It’s also super hydrating and gives skin a healthy, dewy finish.



4 / 5

SkinCeuticals Daily Brightening UV Defense Sunscreen SPF 30 ($60)

According to the brand, “Dr. Pinnell’s Duke Antioxidant patent has been a driving force at SkinCeuticals since the company’s inception, but his contributions to science did not stop there. His skin science research findings have been published in peer-reviewed journals and have since been universally accepted in the dermatological community.”

This hydrating sunscreen combines UV filters with 2 percent niacinamide (one of the six antioxidants mentioned above) and also helps even skin tone.


5 / 5

Banana Boat Light as Air Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50+ ($12.50)

Dr. Sass says this is another one of his favorite sunscreens with antioxidants that is available in the U.S. It rubs in nicely without a white cast, making it a great option for those with darker skin tones. And, it doesn’t feel heavy or greasy.

BUY ON AMAZON – $12.50

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