Since the antioxidant defense systems in the skin depend entirely on nutrition for their operations, it’s important to pay attention to your diet and take oral supplemental antioxidants for UV protection and anti-aging. But research behind isolated antioxidants such as vitamin E or vitamin C alone has largely been disappointing. As our knowledge of antioxidants expands, we have become aware that certain antioxidants offer exceptional skin-protecting properties when allowed to work with other antioxidants.
The ACE Card—Three Key Vitamins
Vitamin A has been considered a great friend to healthy skin for many decades. In the 1930s, researchers first reported that vitamin A supplementation could prevent dry, flaky, and scaly skin. In 1942, the first reports showing anti-acne properties of vitamin A were published.
Not only will vitamin A help with acne and getting rid of dry, scaly skin, but it also fights free radicals and protects against the classic redness of sunburn. You can take vitamin A as an oral supplement, topically, or through diet by making sure you have foods rich in vitamin A in your everyday diet. Retinol has emerged as a topical vitamin A skin-care star.
Vitamin C has specific skin-structure importance, but its levels decline through the aging process. In 1949, vitamin C was shown to be essential for the manufacture and maintenance of collagen. Vitamin C protects collagen and maintains its structure via the vitamin’s strong antioxidant activities in the skin. In the process of defending us against UV and other environmental assaults, vitamin C is depleted from our skin, which is why levels decrease as we age. Like vitamin A, vitamin C reduces sunburn and potential sun-induced skin damage, and it has been shown to protect against UV-induced skin cancer in animals.
Our stratum corneum is particularly rich in the third member of the ACE antioxidant vitamins—fat-soluble vitamin E. Vitamin E helps various inflammatory dermatological skin conditions and is critical in the development of normal, well-functioning collagen, which explains its wound-healing properties. Furthermore, dietary vitamin E protects lipid, or fat, components of the skin when subjected to UV radiation.
We know each dietary ACE vitamin has UV-protecting properties and may even reduce the risk of skin cancers. So what happens when we orally consume ACE vitamins? Unfortunately, research has shown that taking these antioxidants separately will have no positive influence on your skin. The key is synergy. Combined vitamins C, E, and beta-carotene (vitamin A) offer UV protection. Specifically, studies show that taking oral vitamin C (about 2 grams), vitamin E (between 500 and 1000 IUs), and vitamin A family carotenoids (25 milligrams) for several weeks will significantly lower sunburn response to UV radiation in humans. Remember: what you eat is important and directly affects your skin. Those studies indicate that synergy of dietary antioxidants is what gives colorful fruits and vegetables the edge.
In fact, taking individual antioxidants in supplement form can have a dark side. Taken alone at high levels, these vitamins may actually act as pro-oxidants—yes, the very opposite of antioxidant protection. The precise reason why isolated antioxidants turn rogue and become pro-oxidants remains unclear. There are lots of theories. However, the most common theories revolve around the fact that antioxidants work like an orchestra. When you start taking very high doses of vitamin C or E alone, you mess around with the sounds of the orchestra.