The Ingredient That's More Important Than Sunscreen

If there's one thing every self-respecting beauty reader has gleaned from the gazillion articles written (this past month alone) on sunscreen, it's that it protects you from skin cancer, prevents UVA/UVB damage, and deters premature aging, right? Right. Only … not so much.

Wait, what?

While it's true that slathering on an SPF that's 30 or higher is the best way to protect against skin cancer and aging, it's not enough. New research reveals that what really gets the job done are -- drumroll please -- antioxidants.

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That's right, antioxidants. Long the teachers' pets of the skin care cognoscenti, antioxidants are now being heralded as the new sun protection darlings. But, here's the rub: You're going to have to do more than just pound blueberries or sip some Pinot Noir to ingest these puppies. You're going to have to wear these valiant DNA defenders along with your preferred sunscreen.

WHY SUNSCREEN ALONE ISN'T GOOD ENOUGH

According to new research published in "Sun Protection Should Protect From IRA Damage," by Nadim Shaath, PhD, while sunscreen blocks UVA and UVB rays, those rays only account for seven percent of all the solar energy. Seven! About 54 percent of solar energy that comes from infrared radiation, which not only causes premature aging, but can actually be more damaging than UV rays.

And what prevents the damage from infrared radiation? Antioxidants.

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WHAT ARE ANTIOXIDANTS?

OK, I know what you're thinking. You've heard all about how antioxidants are good for you -- how they have anti-cancer properties -- but you don't really know how they work, right?

Here's what you need to know: Infrared radiation A (IRA) from the sun penetrates even deeper into the skin than UVA rays, and produces free radicals. Free radicals then wreak havoc in your body by stealing electrons from your healthy cells, resulting in damage in the form of inflammation, pigmentation, and even DNA damage, says Miami-based dermatologist Leslie Baumann, MD.

Antioxidants are like little heroes, because they provide cells with missing electrons, keeping them healthy, says Baumann.

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YOUR NEW ANTI-AGING GAME PLAN

This doesn't mean that sunscreen isn't crucial. However, Bauman says the smartest move is to use an antioxidant serum in conjunction with your sunscreen. She suggests looking for a combination of vitamin C, vitamin E, and ferulic acid, like SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic, $146. "The vitamin E helps stabilize the vitamin C, and ferulic is an antioxidant as well as a sunscreen," she says.

Use about five to six drops of the serum underneath your sunscreen. Baumann recommends looking for physical (also called mineral) sunscreen ingredients, like zinc and titanium dioxide. La Roche-Posay Athelios 50 Mineral Ultra Light Sunscreen Fluid, $32.95, fits the bill.

For more ways to get antioxidant protection in your anti-aging regimen, click here.

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