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When skin is exposed to the sun, the body's protective mechanism against oxidative damage is an increase in skin pigmentation (i.e. increase in melanin production)—also known as getting a tan. In addition to the tan, however, a localized hyperpigmented lesion, also known as age spot, solar, or senile lentigo, may occur, especially in Asian and Caucasian populations.1 These benign-pigmented lesions are not only considered unattractive on visible areas of the skin, such as the face, hands, upper back and forearms, but they are also a marker for skin photo-damage (i.e. damage caused by the sun, leading to wrinkles, etc.).2,3

Innate protection and use of sunscreen
The mechanisms for photoaged hyperpigmentation and accompanying oxidative damage depend on the cumulative dose of sun exposure as well as on the amount of protection provided by pigmentation.4 Skin pigmentation is a defensive response to the production of reaction oxygen species (ROS) induced by UV radiation. While skin is naturally equipped with antioxidant systems against reaction oxygen species (ROS) induced by UV radiation, these antioxidant defenses are not completely efficient with progressive limitations associated with aging.5,6 Likewise, while topical application of sunscreen certainly helps, it may also have limited efficacy do to inadequacy of application to the skin or removal by perspiring.7,8

UV-Induced Dark Spots Chart

Supplementation with specific antioxidants

Since oxidative damage is a key factor in the development of hyperpigmentation/age spots, it would seem that supplementation with antioxidants would offer additional protective value—and in fact, research has shown this to be the case. The antioxidants with particular value with regard to reducing age spot/dark spot formation and photo-aging include Red Orange Complex, beta-carotene, vitamin E, selenium and lycopene.

Red Orange Complex
Puglia et. al. conducted two studies9 to evaluate the skin photo-protecting and anti-aging effects of Red Orange Complex. In the first study, 20 healthy volunteers (aged 26–47) participated. Two sites on subjects' forearms were exposed to a UV-B sun lamp. After a rest period of three weeks, the same subjects received a 100 mg/day Red Orange Complex for 15 days, after subjects' forearms received the same UV-B lamp treatment. Results showed there was a 40 percent reduction in erythema or redness (i.e. "sunburn") after treatment with Red Orange Complex.

In the second study,10 25 healthy volunteers (aged 47–70 years) participated. Three sun-induced dark spots were chosen on the back of each subject's two hands, and one spotless area on the hands to serve as the control. During the first week, one hand was exposed to tanning treatment by a sunlamp, which simulated sunlight, on all days except the third and sixth day. The evaluation of spot formation (via melanin development) took place during the second week. The third week served as a rest period. During the fourth week the other hand of the subjects were exposed to the same sunlamp treatment, but this time they took 100 mg/day Red Orange Complex. The evaluation of spot formation again took place, this time during the fifth week. When the results were compared, it was determined that dark spot development decreased from 27 percent to seven percent when the subjects used the Red Orange Complex. This difference was statistically significant (p<0.05).

A study11 was conducted with 30 healthy women over the age of 50 to determine the effects of either 30 mg or 90 mg of beta-carotene on wrinkles and elasticity, procollagen gene expression and UV-induced DNA damage in human skin. Fifteen subjects received daily doses of either 30 or 90 mg beta-carotene/day. The results showed that beta-carotene improved facial wrinkles and elasticity significantly only in the 30 mg group. Likewise, a significant increase in procollagen gene expression only occurred in the 30 mg group, and UV damage was only decreased in the 30 mg group. Researchers concluded that 30 mg of beta-carotenesupplementation daily prevented and repaired photo-aging.

Lycopene, Beta-Carotene, Vitamin E and Selenium
A combination of antioxidants including six mg lycopene, six mg beta-carotene, 15 IU vitamin E and 75 mcg selenium were studied12 in 25 healthy individuals exposed to UV radiation to determine the potential for reduced UV-induced damage. After supplementing with the antioxidants, researchers observed a significant 20 percent elevation of the "sunburn" threshold and a general reduction of UV-induced skin redness, a significant reduction of sunburn cells and significant parallel reduction of lipoperoxide levels (i.e. free radicals). The researchers concluded the oral intake of the antioxidants could provide a safe, daylong and efficient complement to photo-protective measures provided by topical and physical agents and may contribute to reducing DNA damage that leads to skin aging.

Using the same combination of antioxidants as described above, but with 4.8 mg beta-carotene instead of six mg, a 12-week, placebo-controlled study13 was conducted with 39 volunteers (average age: 42 years) with healthy, normal skin. The results were a statistically significant increase in skin density (seven percent) and thickness (15 percent) after six and 12 weeks in the antioxidant group, with no significant changes in the placebo group. Increases in skin density and thickness are measures of younger-looking skin. Likewise, there was a statistically significant decrease in skin scaling and roughness after 12 weeks, while again changes in the placebo group were not significant.

Some minimal sun exposure can be healthy in that it helps promote vitamin D production. However, too much or too frequent sun exposure can form dark spots and accelerate photo-aging. While the use of sunscreens can be helpful to some extent, supplementation with the nutraceuticals discussed in this article can provide significant antioxidant protection against these skin concerns.


  1. Pollefliet C, Corstjens H, Gonzalez S et al. Morphological characterization of solar lentigines by in vivo reflectance confocal microscopy: a longitudinal approach. Int J Cosmet Sci. 2013; 35:149.
  2. Nieuweboer-Krobotova L. Hyperpigmentation: types, diagnostics and targeted treatment options. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol Suppl. 2013;1:2.
  3. Svobodova, A, Psotov, J, Walterova, D. Natural phenolics in the prevention of UV-induced skin damage. A review. Biomed Pap. 2003;147:137.
  4. Costin GE, Hearing VJ. Human skin pigmentation: melanocytes modulate skin color in response to stress. FASEB J. 2007; 21: 976.
  5. Svobodova.
  6. Masaki H. Role of antioxidants in the skin: anti-aging effects. J Dermatol Sci. 2010; 58: 85:V90.
  7. Latha MS, Martis J, Shobha V et al. Sunscreening agents. A review. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2013; 6: 16:V26.
  8. Puglia C, Bonina F, Castelli F et al. Evaluation of percutaneous absorption of the repellent diethyltoluamide and the sunscreen ethylhexyl p-methoxycinnamate-loaded solid lipid nanoparticles: an in-vitro study. J Pharm Pharmacol. 2009; 61: 1013:V9.
  9. Puglia C, Offerta A, Saija A, Trombetta D, Venera C. Protective effect of red orange extract supplementation against UV-induced skin damages: photoaging and solar lentigines. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2014 Jun;13(2):151:V7.
  10. Puglia.
  11. Cho S, Lee DH, Won CH, Kim SM, Lee S, Lee MJ, Chung JH. Differential effects of low-dose and high-dose beta-carotene supplementation on the signs of photoaging and type I procollagen gene expression in human skin in vivo. Dermatology. 2010;221(2):160:V71.
  12. Cesarini JP, Michel L, Maurette JM, Adhoute H, Bejot M. Immediate effects of UV radiation on the skin: modification by an antioxidant complex containing carotenoids. Photodermatol Photoimmunol Photomed. 2003;19(4):182:V9.
  13. 13. Heinrich U, Tronnier H, Stahl W, Bejot M, Maurette JM. Antioxidant supplements improve parameters related to skin structure in humans. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. 2006;19(4):224:V31.

Gene Bruno, MS, MHS

Gene Bruno is the Dean of Academics and Professor of Dietary Supplement Science for Huntington College of Health Sciences (a nationally accredited distance learning college offering diplomas and degrees in nutrition and other health science related subjects. Gene has two undergraduate Diplomas in Nutrition, a Bachelor’s in Nutrition, a Master’s in Nutrition, a Graduate Diploma in Herbal Medicine, and a Master’s in Herbal Medicine. As a 32 year veteran of the Dietary Supplement industry, Gene has educated and trained natural product retailers and health care professionals, has researched and formulated natural products for dozens of dietary supplement companies, and has written articles on nutrition, herbal medicine, nutraceuticals and integrative health issues for trade, consumer magazines, and peer-reviewed publications. Gene's latest book, A Guide to Complimentary Treatments for Diabetes, is available on, and other fine retailers.