Sunflower sprouts could be a sexy new sunscreen active. They may protect from the sun, be a powerful anti-aging ingredient and neutralize the oxidative damage that is done by conventional sunscreens. As I said, pretty sexy.

I was first alerted to this when I reader asked if I had come across any products with an ingredient called SunActin. I had not, but ever curious, went off to see what I could find out about SunActin and discovered that it is an ingredient made from sunflower sprouts and tocopherol with some glycerin thrown in made by a company called Mibelle.

As far as I can tell, SunActin wouldn’t be effective as a sunscreen on its own. But Mibelle claims that tests demonstrated that by incorporating SunActin into a product formulation enhanced the protective effect of sunscreens. And, more than that, the studies showed that the skin’s defense capacity increased and protected skin from UV induced oxidative stress.

Sunflower sprouts sound to me like something in an unappetizing sandwich in a health food shop where everything tastes like hemp. So I was wondering how they could get to be transformed into this exciting sounding ingredient. I did some rooting around and the more I read, the more excited I became.

Vegetable sprouts are the young shoots that develop from germinating seeds. These shoots are known as the plant material with the highest level of healthy nutrients. Because they are young and especially vulnerable, they are abundant in what are called secondary metabolites – things like the potent antioxidant flavonoids, and saponins.

What’s more, of all the vegetable sprouts, those from sunflowers may be the most powerful of all. A Chinese study found that sunflower sprout Helianthus annuus exhibited the strongest inhibitory effects against the formation of advanced glycation end products (AGEs) - much stronger than other sprout samples in terms of free radical scavenging and reducing properties.

When you think about it, sunflowers do a lot of staring into a blazing sun. They’d have to develop some tough mechanisms to not get fried on the spot.  One thing they are good at, it seems, is preserving the energy in cells. And, you’ll be delighted to know, that they can do the same on human skin. Something called ATP is responsible for (cell energy) and in a test on the epidermis using a sunflower shoot active medium the deterioration in energy production was significantly reduced (source).

Mibelle, the maker of SunActin, also has a theory about its effect on MMPs. UV radiation especially affects the extracellular matrix (ECM) proteins which form the skin’s connective tissue and whose degradation accelerates due to the increasing level of matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs). MMP-3 is capable of degrading collagen types II, III, IV, IX, and X, proteoglycans, fibronectin, laminin, and elastin, which is an important component for the maintenance of healthy skin structure. Enter SunActin, which can inhibit the production of MMPs.

So far I have only found helianthus annuus (Sunflower) sprout extract  in Royal Jelly Lift Concentrate and Sunjelly by a company called Jafra. If anyone can find some others, please let me know.  Sunflower sprouts and SunActin need to be on our radar. In the meantime, the most interesting combination of sunscreen actives I've come across are in Snowberry's sunscreen.