The Miracle Ingredient That Reverses Sun Damage for Younger-Looking Skin

Amy Lawrenson

We all know the sun ages us. So if you find yourself a little red around the edges, you can slap on the aftersun but the damage is done, right? Not so fast, the current hot topic in beauty is DNA repair; in fact, just last year Swedish scientists won a Nobel Prize in chemistry for their research into how our cells repair damaged DNA. The key, it seems, is DNA repair enzymes that recognise and eliminate damage. So what does this mean? By repairing our DNA with this new wonder ingredient, we can fend off the ageing effects of the sun—think wrinkles and brown spots—for longer. Keep scrolling to find out more about DNA repair enzymes and how to easily incorporate it into your routine…

Our DNA looks like a spiral staircase and carries vital genetic information; it’s what makes us who we are. Scientists have long known that outside factors such as UV rays and pollution can trigger oxidative stress that can harm our fragile DNA, causing those “stairs” to buckle and warp.

Oxidative stress leads to an increase in fine lines and wrinkles, loss of volume and discolouration. Over time sun damage leads to an increase in pigmentation,” explains dermatologist Dr. Zein Obagi.

While SPF goes some way to protect our skin from damage and aftersun treats the superficial post–beach outing burning or redness, it’s now acknowledged among scientific circles that we need more sophisticated products to target the longer-term damage to our DNA—damage that is both ageing and potentially cancerous.

“DNA repair enzymes in creams can really prevent and decrease sun damage and repair some of the damage we get from pollutants and ultraviolet light,” says Dr. Ronald Moy, senior vice president of the Skin Cancer Foundation. “DNA repair enzymes are the new antioxidants of this generation,” he adds.

Our bodies are smart, and we’re able to produce our own DNA repair enzymes; unfortunately, just like collagen production, this process slows down with age. “We all have DNA repair enzymes, but after the age of 30 our DNA repair capability goes down because our enzymes go down,” explains Dr. Moy. And that makes a difference to how our bodies recover from sun exposure.

So how exactly do these DNA enzymes work? “Like a seamstress who cuts out the bad fabric and sutures in the good fabric, DNA repair enzymes cut out the bad DNA, which might be damaged from pollution or UV light, and replace the bad DNA with good DNA,” explains Moy. And the DNA repair enzymes found in skincare are derived from natural sources like plankton, a type of algae. “Algae has to repair its own damage from sunlight.”

For ultimate protection and repair, Dr. Obagi recommends cocktailing, “You need a DNA repairing agent and antioxidant to encourage the skin’s defence mechanisms.” The antioxidants protect against free radical damage caused by pollution and UV rays, while the DNA repair enzymes fix any damage that has already occurred.

You may think summer is coming to an end and it's too late to buy into a product with DNA repair enzymes, but Dr. Moy begs to differ, “The DNA damage might have been there a long time and [repair enzymes] can replace with newer DNA.” There is still much research to be done surrounding this “wonder ingredient” but with studies already showing signs that when applied topically they can prevent precancers, it’s worth considering adding a product containing DNA repair enzymes into your skincare routine. 

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