Preservation of the appearance of young skin has been many people’s goal for thousands of years. However, most changes associated with aging skin are due to the effects of cumulative sun exposure combined with the aging process.
In the area of aesthetic medicine, the term photoaging is used to describe the clinical changes in the skin caused by sun exposure. Because of photoaging, the skin loses its elasticity which results in wrinkling, patchy, pigmented areas, and dilated, superficial blood vessels.
In addition to the unwanted cosmetic effects, ultraviolet solar radiation and photoaging are strong risk factors for skin cancer. Experimental evidence has shown that sunscreen and antioxidants protect against aging, but studies in the past have not confirmed this conclusion.
A new study from the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia looked at sunscreen use and dietary antioxidants in the prevention of skin aging. Over 900 patients younger than 55 years of age were followed over four years.
Most impressive was the fact that the group that used sunscreen daily did not have any detectable increase in photoaging over that period of time. Skin aging was also 24% less in people who used the sunscreen daily versus the group that used sunscreen only occasionally.
Despite the theory that oral antioxidants might reduce signs of oxidative skin damage due to sun exposure, beta-carotene supplementation showed no overall effect on skin aging over the four year period.
In summary, sunscreen use daily has been proven to protect against photoaging as well as protecting against skin cancer. In contrast, daily use of antioxidants versus placebo shows no difference.
As always, I recommend use of sunscreen on a daily basis even in fall and winter months. An ounce of preventive sunscreen now is worth more than a pound of corrective therapy later in life.