Written by Eunoia House
Most of us have been slathering on sunscreen at the beach or pool since we were kids. Now that we're older, we hear over and over that daily sun protection is the key to a holistic, effective skincare regimen. But sunscreen isn't perfect, and if SPF 15 moisturizer in the morning is your only method, you may be seriously risking that dewy glow you’re chasing. Fortunately, researchers have uncovered an antioxidant that will help protect your skin around the clock. The secret to your healthiest skin ever is astaxanthin (ASX), the newest supplement that you need to add to your routine.
Not convinced that a pill is a pathway to your best skin? We'll walk you through it.
Your skin has three layers, from the outside in: the epidermis, the dermis, and the subcutis. The dermis, your middle layer of skin, is made up of elastic collagen fibers that are responsible for making your skin look young, smooth, and healthy.
The sun gives off two different light waves, UVA and UVB rays, which damage the skin anytime they come into contact with it. These UV rays cause oxidative stress (which is basically when your body releases too many harmful oxygen chemicals following UV exposure), deplete your antioxidant levels, and strip your skin of moisture and firmness.
That tan we’re all working so hard to get? It’s actually just your dermis trying to prevent the UV rays from doing even more damage. That damage has two important consequences, aesthetic and safety. We’ll break them down a bit more for you.
Aesthetics – UVA rays are the primary culprit for visible signs of aging caused by sun damage. These rays damage the collagen fibers in your dermis and force your body to create enzymes that often rebuild the collagen fibers incorrectly, a process that repeats itself every time you experience skin damage. Yes, that includes your amazing glow from St. Kitts last summer. This process causes all of the things we’re trying to avoid as we age: wrinkles, leathery skin, sunspots, discoloration, and sagginess or loss of elasticity.
Safety – Although UVA rays can cause some forms of skin cancer, most sunburns and skin cancer are linked to UVB rays. UVB rays penetrate your skin and actually damage your DNA directly. When this happens, your body works hard to heal the damaged skin cells, but sometimes they multiply too quickly for your body to stop them. This results in skin cancer, the most common form of cancer in the United States.
According to The Skin Cancer Foundation, sun damage throughout your life is the cause of 90% of visible changes to your skin (for all my perfectionists out there, the other 10% is just natural aging and it’s pretty unavoidable). Because of that, sun protection is absolutely key to anti-aging and keeping your skin healthy. According to New York City dermatologist Dr. Carlos Charles, sunscreen is “of utmost importance as part of your year-round regimen…daily and consistent sunscreen use helps to prevent the development of fine lines and wrinkles, textural imperfections, and changes in the appearance of pores over time. More importantly, daily sunscreen use can help to prevent the formation of certain skin cancers.”
And it’s not just doctors who believe sunscreen is the secret to flawless skin. Gigi Hadid fesses up to wearing “the highest SPF” on her face to avoid damage, as well as regular SPF on the rest of her body. Kylie and Kendall Jenner are both “adamant” about using sunscreen every day, with Teen Vogue describing it as one of the few similarities in their skincare regimens. If that doesn’t convince you, take it from OG supermodel Cindy Crawford, who says the best advice she’s received from a dermatologist is simply “wear sunscreen every day!”
In case it wasn’t clear from 22-year-old Kylie’s interest in sunscreen, you need to supplement your daily regimen with sun protection as early as possible. According to dermatologists, you should start incorporating anti-aging skincare products around 20 years old because your skin will start to lose collagen in your 20s.
But I wear sunscreen, isn't that enough?
The first step in the anti-aging process is adding SPF 30+ to your collection of products, and using it every single day. But sunscreen blocks – not prevents – sun damage, and there are five main areas that sunscreen falls short.
· Using anything less than broad-spectrum SPF 30. Ideally, you’d use SPF 50, but even an SPF 30 will block 97% of the harmful UV rays. Anything less than that and you’re jeopardizing your anti-aging efforts and your health.
· Not applying SPF 30+ indoors (or in cars). Standard glass – like that in the windows and doors of your house, office, gym, or car – protect against cancer causing UVB rays, but they don’t protect you from the aging effects of UVA rays. If you’re sitting inside, especially if you’re near the glass, you’re exposing yourself to wrinkles, sunspots, and general sun damage.
· Not applying SPF 30+ when it’s cloudy or rainy. I know, it doesn’t feel like you’re getting any sun when it’s overcast. But trust me, you’re not off the hook just because the sun isn’t shining and you don’t need to throw on your cutest sunnies. Even on a cloudy day, 80% of UV rays are still able to penetrate the earth’s surface.
· Not applying enough, or missing spots. We all have a story about that time we missed the back of our neck or the tops of our feet at the beach and we ended up with a nasty sunburn on one small area of our skin. Not only is this common, but most of us also just don’t apply enough sunscreen. If you aren’t applying one ounce – enough to fill a shot glass – you’re exposing your skin to potential damage. Pro-tip: it actually takes 15-30 minutes after application for the sunscreen to absorb and start protecting you.
· Not re-applying, or not re-applying frequently enough. This should be old news to most of us (not that that means we always follow the rule), but you need to be reapplying sunscreen every two hours, or immediately after swimming or exercising.
Okay, I'm convinced I need to do more, but what's the solution?
I’m tired just writing that list of issues with sunscreen, so I know you must be exhausted thinking about the day-to-day steps you have to take to protect your skin and ensure that dewy glow. But there’s good news. Scientists have discovered a natural substance to fight sun damage from the inside out. To supplement your current sun protection routine and combat the issues above, the secret lies in astaxanthin.
Astaxanthin is an antioxidant that can be applied directly to the skin or, more often, taken as a pill. Astaxanthin is produced by plants and animals – crabs, salmon, microalgae, etc. – and is responsible for the reddish-pink color of a lobster, shrimp, and other seafood. In addition to creating that beautiful salmon red color, astaxanthin has some seriously impressive health benefits and anti-aging properties.
Astaxanthin prevents moisture loss in the epidermis, significantly slows the development of rough-textured or leathery skin, and has even been linked to a reduction in the size of wrinkles and age spots. In case beautiful skin wasn’t enough, astaxanthin has also been linked to lower cancer risk, improved endurance during exercise, decreased male infertility (we love our male readers too!), decreased menopausal symptoms, and reduction in pain for rheumatoid arthritis patients.
How do we know astaxanthin actually works?
Science, duh. Since 1995, there have been 10 studies documented by the National Institute of Health (NIH) that tested the effects of astaxanthin. The most recent of these studies tested up to 65 patients using the gold-standard for clinical trials – randomized, double-blind, controlled methodology. What does that mean in normal human speak? Both patients and doctors had no idea who was taking astaxanthin and who wasn’t, so there wasn’t room for bias in the study.
The studies also uncovered how astaxanthin works to reduce sun damage and wrinkles. It comes down to four major effects:
· Antioxidant – Studies found that astaxanthin both prevents and attacks the oxidative stress molecules that cause skin damage. It does this by turbocharging the cellular defense system to prevent damage and attacking the toxic oxidative molecules to neutralize them when oxidative stress does happen.
· Anti-inflammatory – UV exposure causes inflammation in the skin, and astaxanthin has been shown to cause a decrease in the harmful molecules that cause this inflammation.
· Immune-boosting (still undergoing testing) – Astaxanthin has been shown to increase antibody production and fights against UV-induced suppression of the immune system.
· DNA-repair – Studies show that astaxanthin improves cell repair abilities and may contribute to gene stability.
All of these effects combine to make astaxanthin a key tool for preventing future sun damage and even repairing the sun damage that’s already troubling your skin.
I’m convinced, but how do I add astaxanthin supplements to my routine?
There are plenty of companies that sell astaxanthin supplements, so we found some of the best options for you. None of these are sponsored, so we’re really just looking for supplements that are the best for you at the best price. Most of the options online range from about $20 to $100, but it’s important to factor in the amount of astaxanthin packed into each pill as well as the number of pills per bottle. With that in mind, we’ve narrowed it down to five options that should cover all your bases.
· The Good Deal: BioAstin Hawaiian Astaxanthin. This option delivers 4mg per pill in a 120 count bottle. At just $24, BioAstin allows you to try the healing properties of astaxanthin without spending too much money. Click here to check pricing and reviews.
· The “Green” Option: NutriGold Astaxanthin. Also 4mg per pill and 120 count bottles, this option is all-natural, non-GMO, and sourced using environmentally-friendly methods. In addition to being just $32, it’s also kosher, vegan, and gluten-free. Click here to check pricing and reviews.
· The High-Dose Option: Jarrow Formulas Astaxanthin. At about $32 for 60 pills per bottle, this option is about twice the price of the previous two, but it packs a serious punch when it comes to astaxanthin. With 12mg (that’s 3x the astaxanthin!) in each pill, these supplements have great reviews and are non-GMO. Click here to check pricing and reviews.
· The Top of the Line Option: Designs For Health Astaxanthin. At $60 for 60 6mg pills per bottle, this option is a definite splurge. But these supplements come from a well-known company and are non-GMO, gluten-free, soy-free, and toxin-free, so it may be worth it if you’re concerned about the brand you’re buying from. Click here to check pricing and reviews.
Note: Astaxanthin is not a replacement for sunscreen and/or avoiding exposure to the sun during peak UV-index hours.