We're all familiar with sunburn—the short-term skin inflammation caused by overexposure to the sun. Besides the familiar redness, pain, blistering, and flaking, overexposure to sunlight can lead to long-term skin damage, including premature aging and an increased risk of skin cancer.
The chief culprit in sunburn is not the sun's heat but its ultraviolet radiation, which occurs in the forms UVA and UVB. This radiation acts on substances in our skin to form chemicals called free radicals. These free radicals appear to be partly responsible for the short-term damage of sunburn, and perhaps for long-term damage from the sun as well.
Conventional approaches to sunburn focus on prevention: staying out of the sun (especially when the sun is strongest), wearing protective clothing, and using sunscreen. Sunscreen blocks much of the radiation from our skin and helps prevent inflammation. A recent study of 1,383 Australians suggests that regular sunscreen use may also diminish the number of tumors caused by one form of skin cancer, squamous cell carcinoma.
Many drugs and herbs may increase your sensitivity to the sun. Some of the drugs that increase sun sensitivity are
Principal Proposed Natural Treatments
Several studies have found that vitamins C
Vitamins C and E
In several animal studies, vitamins C and E applied topically to the skin helped to protect against ultraviolet damage.
use of combined vitamins C and E may offer very modest benefit as well. One double-blind study of 10 people found that 2 g of vitamin C and 1,000 IU of vitamin E taken for 8 days resulted in a modest decrease in skin reddening induced by ultraviolet light.
One study found benefits with a combination of vitamins E and C,
Green tea contains a potent antioxidant known as epigallocatechin gallate, or
The typical proposed dose of EGCG is 3 mg per square inch of skin.
Other Proposed Natural Treatments
Beta-carotene and Mixed Carotenoids
Beta-carotene belongs to a large family of natural chemicals known as carotenoids. Other members of this family include
Beta-carotene, alone or in combination with lutein and other carotenoids, may be able to reduce the effects of sunburn, but study results are mixed.
In a double-blind study, 20 young women took 30 mg daily of beta-carotene or placebo for 10 weeks before a 13-day stretch of controlled sun exposure at a sea-level vacation spot.
A 12-week, double-blind, placebo-controlled study found beta-carotene (at 24 mg daily) and a mixture of beta-carotene, lutein, and lycopene (at 8 mg each daily) equally protective against sun-induced skin redness.
Not every study has found beta-carotene or mixed carotenoids to be helpful. In a double-blind trial of 16 older women, high doses of beta-carotene taken for 23 days didn't provide any more protection than placebo against simulated sun exposure.
Other Natural Treatments
Although research information is lacking, topical jojoba, poplar bud
1. Green A, Williams G, Neale R, et al. Daily sunscreen application and betacarotene supplementation in prevention of basal-cell and squamous-cell carcinomas of the skin: a randomised controlled trial. Lancet. 1999;354:723-729.
4. Trevithick JR, Xiong H, Lee S, et al. Topical tocopherol acetate reduces post-UVB, sunburn-associated erythema, edema, and skin sensitivity in hairless mice. Arch Biochem Biophys. 1992;296:575-582.
5. Trevithick JR, Shum DT, Redae S, et al. Reduction of sunburn damage to skin by topical application of vitamin E acetate following exposure to ultraviolet B radiation: effect of delaying application or of reducing concentration of vitamin E acetate applied. Scanning Microsc. 1993;7:1269-1281.
9. Trevithick JR, Shum DT, Redae S, et al. Reduction of sunburn damage to skin by topical application of vitamin E acetate following exposure to ultraviolet B radiation: effect of delaying application or of reducing concentration of vitamin E acetate applied. Scanning Microsc. 1993;7:1269-1281.
13. Fuchs J, Kern H. Modulation of UV-light-induced skin inflammation by D-alpha-tocopherol and L-ascorbic acid: a clinical study using solar simulated radiation. Free Radic Biol Med. 1998;25:1006-1012.
15. Fuchs J, Kern H. Modulation of UV-light-induced skin inflammation by D-alpha-tocopherol and L-ascorbic acid: a clinical study using solar simulated radiation. Free Radic Biol Med. 1998;25:1006-1012.
30. Katiyar SK, Elmets CA, Agarwal R, et al. Protection against ultraviolet-B radiation-induced local and systemic suppression of contact hypersensitivity and edema responses in C3H/HeN mice by green tea polyphenols. Photochem Photobiol. 1995;62:855-861.
31. Katiyar SK, Matsui MS, Elmets CA, et al. Polyphenolic antioxidant (-)-epigallocatechin-3-gallate from green tea reduces UVB-induced inflammatory responses and infiltration of leukocytes in human skin. Photochem Photobiol. 1999;69:148-153.
32. Katiyar SK, Matsui MS, Elmets CA, et al. Polyphenolic antioxidant (-)-epigallocatechin-3-gallate from green tea reduces UVB-induced inflammatory responses and infiltration of leukocytes in human skin. Photochem Photobiol. 1999;69:148-153.
34. Gollnick HPM, Hopfenmuller W, Hemmes C, et al. Systemic beta carotene plus topical UV sunscreen are an optimal protection against harmful effects of natural UV-sunlight: results of the Berlin-Eilath study. Eur J Dermatol. 1996;6:200-205.
53. Greul AK, Grundmann JU, Heinrich F, et al. Photoprotection of UV-irradiated human skin: an antioxidative combination of vitamins E and C, carotenoids, selenium, and proanthocyanidins. Skin Pharmacology and AppliedSkin Physiology. 2002;15:307-315.
56. Saliou C, Rimbach G, Moini H, et al. Solar ultraviolet-induced erythema in human skin and nuclear factor-kappa-B-dependent gene expression in keratinocytes are modulated by a French maritime pine bark extract. Free Radic Biol Med. 2001;30:154-160.
57. Heinrich U, Neukam K, Tronnier H et al. Long-term ingestion of high flavanol cocoa provides photoprotection against UV-induced erythema and improves skin condition in women. J Nutr. 2006;136:1565-1569.
58. Palombo P, Fabrizi G, Ruocco V, et al. Beneficial long-term effects of combined oral/topical antioxidant treatment with the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin on human skin: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. 2007;20:199-210.
59. Cornacchione S, Sadick NS, Neveu M, et al. In vivo skin antioxidant effect of a new combination based on a specific Vitis vinifera shoot extract and a biotechnological extract. J Drugs Dermatol. 2007;6:s8-13.
Last reviewed April 2009 by EBSCO CAM Review Board
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