Why Sulforaphane Glucosinolate (SGS) Is The Best Antioxidant You Never Knew You Needed
When it comes to antioxidants in skin care, there are more than a few popular players: There's vitamin C (famous for evening skin tone and promoting collagen production), vitamin E (known for strengthening the skin barrier), vitamin A (aka, retinol), and a host of other active ingredients that make up the robust skin care alphabet.
Here's another one you might want on your radar: sulforaphane glucosinolate (SGS, or commonly referred to simply as sulforaphane). Quite a mouthful, but scientists agree this antioxidant is quickly becoming the next juggernaut of skin care. Here's what you need to know about this sought-after ingredient.
What is sulforaphane?
Picture a plate of cruciferous veggies (that's broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts, to name a few): This family of vegetables contains sulfur-containing compounds, called glucosinolates. As we digest, our body breaks down the glucosinolates and produces many compounds, one of which is called sulforaphane.
For years, researchers have loved this compound for supporting your body's natural detoxification systems; one study even shows sulforaphane from broccoli sprouts activated enzymes in the body that picked up pollutants from the bloodstream and flushed them out via urine.* But while the benefits seem pretty gut-health-heavy, they seem to be making their way to skin care; in fact, new research keeps cropping up touting sulforaphane as the next up-and-coming antioxidant for skin.*
What makes sulforaphane so good for skin?
By now, you might be familiar with how antioxidants work (if you aren't, allow us to inform you all about antioxidants). At the most basic level, they directly stabilize free radicals by donating an electron, or break down the free radicals and render them harmless.
"But that's not quite how sulforaphane works," explains registered dietitian Molly Knudsen, M.S., RDN. Rather, sulforaphane activates the protein Nfr2, which in turn activates certain antioxidant genes in your body. In other words, SGS doesn't just stabilize free radicals the same way consuming vitamin C might—it activates the body's natural detoxification and antioxidant enzymes. Essentially, sulforaphane can support your skin in the same way it does your body's detoxification processes, flushing all the harmful players out.*
Sulforaphane has also been shown to reverse photoaging by protecting against UV-induced skin damage. According to a study on sulforaphane's protective effects, using broccoli sprout extract for three days in a row prior to UV exposure helped manage skin cell damage.* What's more, sulforaphane can provide healthy aging benefits; according to that same study, sulforaphane also helped maintain inflammation, which may spur the healing process for inflammatory skin conditions (like acne, for one).* Another study investigating sulforaphane as an antioxidant agent demonstrated similar protective effects against UV-damage, touting sulforaphane as a "very promising ingredient."*
How to get your fill of sulforaphane.
Since sulforaphane comes from cruciferous veggies, the obvious choice may be to, you know, load up on broccoli. But, as registered dietitian Lauren Koffler, M.S., R.D., CDN, points out, there are even easier ways to ensure you're consuming a targeted dose of the antioxidant: "Sulforaphane can be found in supplement form, which tends to be more concentrated than what you'd receive from cruciferous veggies alone."*
In terms of topicals, the jury's still out on whether your skin can absorb the SGS the same way you can internally. According to Koffler, "There are some ointments and lotions on the market that contain broccoli seed oil, but research on their effectiveness is limited." So even though massaging in formulas that boast SGS can't hurt, you may want to stick to supplements and veggies for now. After all, a truly lit-from-within glow starts from the inside out, no?*
Jamie Schneider is the Associate Beauty & Wellness Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare. In her role at mbg, she reports on everything from the top beauty industry trends, to the gut-skin connection and the microbiome, to the latest expert makeup hacks. She currently lives in New York City.