Potentials of Botanicals as Sunscreen Agents: A Review


Yogesh Shivhare*, Pratyush Jain

Department of Pharmacognosy, RKDF College of Pharmacy, Bhopal (M.P.)

*Corresponding Author E-mail: yogesh_aot@rediffmail.com




Sun exposure is the main etiological agent for most type of skin cancer, photocarcinogenesis, photo ageing, thus adequate photoprotection is essential to control UV related disorders. Approaches including use of physical photoprotective agents and sunscreen are used widely but in addition to this there are agents who can further improve the effect of ultraviolet light on the skin like antioxidants, and stimulators of repairing mechanisms. This review summarizes active components of sunscreen with a special emphasis on natural substance (vitamins and polyphenols etc.), which has potential as sunscreen agent bearing antioxidant repairing properties on UV induced DNA damage. All of the above with the new approaches such as addition of repair enzyme and active compounds are discussed.


KEYWORDS Photoprotection, Medicinal Plants, Antioxidant, UV Protection.




There is slight literature on the traditions by which people confined themselves against the sun, verification from paintings suggests that clothes covering the body, veils and large edge hats were used by ancient Greeks, and umbrellas were used in ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, China and India. Sunscreens are chemicals that offer protection against the adverse effects of solar and in particular UV radiation. [1] The purpose of sunscreen product is to avoid the skin from tanning and blazing by screening out the UV-A and UV-B radiations in sunlight. [2] Light photons coming on earth consist of infrared light (56%, 780-5000 nm), visible light (39%, 400-780 nm), and UV light (5%, 290-400 nm).[3] 


UV spectrum consists of UVB (280-320nm), UVA (320-400nm) and UVC (200-280nm). Difference in wavelength penetrate differently into the skin layer (IR, VIS, UVA, UVB, UVC) and result in the different photochemical reaction and formation of Reactive oxygen species [ROS], and cause harmful effect like dermal injury, epidermal cell damage, pigmentation, photo carcinogenesis, mutation, apoptosis and many others. [4] Thus Photoprotection is an essential prophylactic and therapeutic element. Development of photoprotection element prevents or counteracts the damage, caused by UV photons. Various measures such as limiting the body to sun exposure by means of physical photoprotectant (clothing, hats, make-up, sun glasses, window glasses), UV filters (organic and inorganic) are used. [5] These photoprotectant have certain limitations so technologic advances are move towards the use of botanical agents. Within this context various plant constituent (vitamins, carotenoids, flavonoids), which can be used both as topically and systemically, can be used which protect our body cell from harmful effect of UV rays and rejuvenate the skin. Natural substances extracted from plants have been recently considered as potential sunscreen resources because of their ultraviolet ray absorption in the UV region [6] and their antioxidant activity.[7] This review work summarizes the plant constituents which are capable to explore as potent sunscreen agents.



UVB induced DNA photoproducts, which initiate the release of NO, and peroxynitrite free radical in human endothelial cells [4] and cause cytotoxicity. It suppresses cell mediated immunity and cause infection and cancer. It also stimulate intercellular adhesion molecule, which generate immunological/inflammatory skin reactions and cause photo carcinogenesis by damaging DNA. While UVA primary causes dermal damage, which leads to photoaging with elastosis, loss of skin elasticity and wrinkling.[5-6] Its Precursers leads to melanin pigmentation, it also cause delayed melanin pigmentation (de novo melanogenesis).



To protect from solar radiation some approaches are used:

·         Physical photoprotective agents

·          Sunscreens

·         Botanical agents

·         New approach


Physical photoprotective agents

The most basic photoprotective tools include clothing; make UP, sunglasses, window glass and windshields glasses and hats. Clothing is an excellent photoprotectant to scatter UVB rays. For better reflection some factors like construction of fabric, thickness, color, hydration etc. must be considered. [7] Hats provide protection for head and neck depending on the material, brim width and weaving. [8] In make up, foundation containing UV filters with high SPF provides photoprotection but it should be reapply in every 2hrs. [9] Sunglasses has been recommended by visual health organizations in the United States that sunglasses which absorb 99% to 100% of full spectrum (up to 400nm) should be worn, and for additional protection of the retina can be provided by lenses which reduce the transmission of violet/blue light. Window glass and windshields glasses such as tinted plastic film can block a large portion UVA (370-380 nm) while tinted glass provides significant protection against UVA and visible light. Plastic film containing zinc, chrome or other metal are incorporated windshields of cars and provides better UV protection over a wide spectrum. [10] Sunscreens are commonly used as protection against sun damage in the form of lotion, spray or gel or other topical product and reduce the penetration of damaging solar UV wavelength in the skin by reflecting or absorbing them. [11]

Botanical Agents in Skin Protection

Technologic advances have increased scientists’ ability to study the biologic properties of botanical agents. Laboratory and clinical investigation of botanicals has revealed potential advantages relevant to skin protection. Certain botanicals stimulate the immune response that may counter the immunosuppressive effects of aging. Some botanicals have been shown to suppress procarcinogenic gene mutations. Many botanical agents possess potent antioxidant activity, which can cause oxidative damage by reactive oxygen species.


Botanicals (Table 1) also offer potential advantages over synthetic products that might be used to counteract the cutaneous effects of aging. Synthetic agents often carry a risk of toxicity and they tend to have a narrow spectrum of activity. In contrast, botanical agents usually are nontoxic, and many of them have several different mechanisms of action.


New approaches

New approaches include:

§     Addition of repair enzymes

§     Addition of active compounds


Addition of repair enzymes

Nucleotide excision repair enzyme is important compounds which provide endogenous Photoprotection, but it sometime slip off and might give rise to anomalous cell growth therefore a cell surveillance mechanism called ‘cell cycle checkpoints’ control cell-cycle transitions for sometime but when damage is totally beyond repair cell will go to apoptis to get rid for unrepaired DNA damage and give rise to cancer [12]. Before this stage addition of bacterial DNA repair enzyme T4 endonuclease V (T4 endo V) repair DNA by a mechanism called photoreactivation performed by photolyases (found in many living organisms) activate DNA repair enzyme after capturing blue light (300-500 nm) photon and prevent immunosuppression, erythema and sunburn formation. They are used as T4N5 endonuclease liposome in xeroderma pigmentosum. [13]


Addition of active components

Active compound are botanical agents are vitamins and mostly belong to the family of polyphenol, mostly they are antioxidant and work their antioxidant potential and also by exciting endogeneous adaptive response. Besides polyphenols other polyphenol like flavonoids and isoflavonoids are also suggested as candidate for photoprotective applications as mentioned in Botanical agents for skin protection. [14]






Table 1: Botanical Agents in Skin Protection [16-43]


Botanical Agent in Skin Protection


Mechanism of action


Systemic photoprotective agent



Source: plants, algae and in some bacteria and fungi

Sunburn reactions

They get distributed into light exposed area such as skin or eye when they are ingested with diet as micronutrients (Hoyoku 1999).


Beta carotnoids

Source: carrots, sweet potatoes, apricots, winter squash, pumpkin, cantaloupe and mangoes

Inhibit UV induced carcinogenesis

Β-carotene is a efficient quencher of singlet oxygen (Mathews 1990; Green et al. 1999).



Source: Gac, tomatoes, pink, watermelon, grapefruit, papaya, pink guava, seabuckthorn, red bell pepper, wolfberry (goji, a berry relative of tomato), and rosehip.

Decreases sensitivity toward UV-induced erythema

It quenches excited sensitizer molecules as well as by quenching O2 (Stahl and Sies 1969).


High-flavanol coca

Source: cocoa

Photoprotection against UV-induced erythema

It increases blood flow of cutaneous and subcutaneous tissue and led to increase in skin thickness, skin density and skin hydration (Heinrich et al. 2006)


Plant oligosaccharides

Source: xyloglucans and aloe poly/oligosaccharides from tamarind seeds and Aloe barbadensis


Prevent UVB induced systemic immune suppression

By reducing IL (Interleukin)-10 production in mice and it is believed that aloe contains multiple immunoprotective factors that prevent UV-induced suppression of delayed type hypersensitivity, but the precise structure is not yet known (Strickland et al. 1999; Byeon et al. 1998).


Coffee berry

Source: unripe fruits of Coffea arabica

Protection against both UVA and UVB radiation

CoffeeBerry extract contains high levels of antioxidants called polyphenols that are believed to prevent cellular damage in skin when applied externally and to boost the immune system when ingested (Huang et al. 1998).


Omege 3-poly unsaturated fatty acids

Source: fish oil

Decrease UVB-induced sunburn and inflammation; it also reduced UVA-dependent responses after 3 months of fish oil ingestion.

Its efficacy to prevent photoaging in humans has not been assessed in long-term clinical trials (Rhodes et al.1994).



Topical photoprotective agent


Mushroom extract

Source: Ganoderma lucidum, Lentinus edodes, Grifola frondosa, Hericium erinaceum, shiitake and Inonotus obliquus

To prevent sunburn and associate skin damage

Its efficacy to prevent photoaging in humans has not been assessed in long-term clinical trials (Silva 2004; Wasser 2002).


Red orange extract

Source: Bitter orange

Protects against photooxidative skin damage and protects skin to UVB radiations

Antioxidant activity and radical scavenging activity (Saija et al. 1998).


Caffeic and ferulic acid

Source: Caffeic acid - Caffenol, Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus)

Ferulic acid -oats, whole wheat, brown rice, apples, peanuts, and pineapples

To reduce skin damage

By antioxidant/radical scavenging(Saija et al. 2000).


Red ginseng extract

Source: Panax ginseng

Protect against photodamaging effects of UV radiation

It slightly increase dermal cellularity and cause lack of proliferation of cyst(Lee et al. 2009).


Cocoloba uvibera Linn

Source: sea grape

To prevent sunburn

Inhibiting the production of IL-alpha, TNF-alpha [Tumour necrosis factor] and melanocyte stimulating hormone in melanocytes subjected to UV radiation. It has also shown anti-oxidant and anti-tyrosinase activity (Silveira et al. 2008).


Vitamin E

Source: asparagus, avocado, nuts red palm oil, spinach and other green leafy vegetables, vegetable oils

Prevent UV absorption

Act by inhibiting epidermal lipid oxidation and suppress contact hypersensitivity and prevent SSR-induced reduction of epidermal Langerhans cell density (Krol et al. 2000).


Broccoli extract

Source: Broccoli (Brassicaceae)

Protection against inflammation and redness cause by UV radiation

Antioxidant activity and radical scavenging activity (Talalay et al. 2007).


Feverfew PFE

Source: Pyrethrum parthenium, Asteraceae

To prevent UV-induced erythema

It blocks the erythemic effects of acute UVB exposure in humans (Martin et al. 2008).



Source: niacin, a component of the vitamin B complex.

protect the immune system and prevent damage from both UVA and UVB radiation

It causes suppression of UVB photocarcinogenesis by repairing DNA damage and it promote the antitumor characteristics of keratinocytes (Mohammad 2002).



Source: soya bean (Fabaceae)

Sun burn and associate skin damage

Keratinocyte PAR-2 (protease activated receptor-2), which is a regulator of pigmentation, is inhibited by soybean trypsin inhibitor and Bowman-Birk inhibitor present in soybean but these can be denatured by heat exposure (Wallo et al. 2007).



Source: soybean and equol from red clover

Prevent photoaging and sunburn.

It is a specific inhibitor of protein tyrosine kinases and a phytoestrogen compared with the native molecule (Widyarini et al. 2001).



Systemic and topical photoprotectant


Green tea polyphenols

Source: fruit, vegetable, wine and tea

Prevent Ultraviolet Light induced oxidative damage

Antioxidant and free radical scavenging activity (Katiyar 2001).


Polypodium leucotomas extract

Source: extract of fern species, Polypodiaceae

Prevent skin aging and decrease the risk of cancer from UV radiation

It act by scavenging free radicls particularly superoxide anions and inhibit the depletion of Langerhans cells, it protects from sunburn by inhibiting the infiltration of mast cells into skin (Gombau et al. 2006; Gonzalez  et al. 1997).


Photoprotectant in combination


L-ascorbic acid and alpha tocopherol

Source: Plants and vegetables


Prevent premature science of aging and stimulate collagen production. It also prevents the mutation in skin cells associated with the formation of skin cancer.

By inhibiting epidermal lipid peroxidation and an increase in the minimum erythema dose [MED] to solar stimulated radiation SSR-induced reduction of epidermal Langerhans cell density (Fuchs et al. 1985).



Source: tomatoes and grape seeds

Prevent severe sun burn.

Seresis decreased UV-induced expression of matrix metalloproteinase [MMP-1] and MMP-9, which slowed down the development of UVB-induced erythema (Greul et al. 2002).


Quercetin and rutin

Source: Sophora japonica, Eucalyptus macrorrhyncha, buckwheat

Protect against UVB rays

Higher Antioxidant and free radical scavenging activity (Choquenet et al. 2008).


Carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin

Source: Plants and vegetables

Protect against light induced retinal damage and aged-related macular degeneration

Antioxidant and free radical scavenging activity (Hyoungshin et al. 2002).




Human life lives in the ocean of visible and invisible radiation and, there would be no existence on earth without radiation. It has been anticipated that a least radiation level, solar or ionizing, may be favorable for all organisms. [15] However, extreme emission of any kind is clearly injurious to human health. On the other hand, solar radiation is a crucial necessity and posses many health profits. At current, sunscreens are very valuable to prevent suntan and possibly skin cancer and photo aging. Finally, safety is essential for any preventive measure. For this reason, there is the need for the growth of new substances oral or topical to enhance the caring effect of sunscreens. In conclusion, sunscreens represent safe and helpful utensils to defend the public fitness against unfavorable effects of ultraviolet radiations.



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Received on 05.05.2017          Modified on 10.06.2017

Accepted on 15.07.2017       ©A&V Publications All right reserved

Res.  J. Pharmacognosy and Phytochem. 2018; 10(1): 68-72.

DOI: 10.5958/0975-4385.2018.00011.0