Ingredient More Important Than Sunscreen

You wear sunscreen every day (or, OK, most days), and you’re proud of it. After all, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency, up to 90 percent of preventable aging is caused by UV exposure — and that means smoking, diet, and sleep barely matter by comparison. For the last few decades, everyone from dermatologists to beauty editors has been stressing the importance of SPF. “Wear sunscreen and you’ll look younger” has been our motto.

But here’s the thing: We were wrong. SPF is not enough to protect you from sun damage. Sunscreens block UVA and UVB rays, but those rays only account for seven percent of solar energy. New research finds that infrared radiation, which makes up 54 percent of solar energy, also causes aging — and it might even be worse than UV rays. While there is no product that can totally guard you from infrared radiation, studies show that antioxidants in skin care may help.

More and more dermatologists and skin care experts now recommend wearing an antioxidant serum and a sunscreen — and many of them believe the antioxidant is the more important half of the duo. “I rarely wear sunscreen anymore,” said Stuart Leitch, assistant vice president of marketing at SkinCeuticals, while sitting at a table of shocked beauty editors. “I get more protection from my antioxidant serum.”

Skip ahead to find out more about the antioxidants you should be using.

Leitch explained that he does wear SPF when he knows he’s going to be outside — and most dermatologists still suggest sticking with the combination of an antioxidant serum followed by a sunscreen. The problem, however, is that most patients skip that antioxidant step because there’s so much confusion about antioxidants: What are they? What do antioxidants do? Does it matter which one you choose? We’re answering these questions and more — because adding an antioxidant to your skin care regimen might just be the most important thing you do to fight aging.
This is the scary part. You probably know about UVA and UVB rays — and that broad-spectrum sunscreens will protect you against both. UVA rays are responsible for aging — they break down collagen and elastin, which keep your skin looking young. UVB rays damage the top layers of your skin, causing sunburn. Both UVA and UVB can cause skin cancer.

However, these rays make up only seven percent of solar energy. What makes up the rest? We won’t bore you with a scientific dissertation about wavelengths, but here’s what you need to know: New research shows that infrared radiation A (IRA) penetrates even deeper into the skin than UVA rays. It damages skin cells and causes sun damage and aging by producing free radicals, as explained in the paper, “Sun Protection Should Protect From IRA Damage,” (May 2012) by Nadim Shaath, PhD, chairman of chemistry at SUNY-Purchase. Why are free radicals so bad?