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Enjoying Your Day in the Sun: Defending Skin from the Inside Out

By: Kimberly Decker
Posted: May 4, 2011, from the May 2011 issue of GCI Magazine.

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Alpha- and beta-carotene also protect skin lipids from oxidation and stimulate intercellular communication, helping regulate skin growth and renewal. In a joint meta-analysis of seven 10-week oral supplementation studies—researchers at Munster University Hospital and Heinrich-Heine University in Düsseldorf, Germany, found that beta-carotene acted as an effective antioxidant, protecting against the development of sunburn reactions and (in supplementation regimens lasting beyond 10 weeks) providing additional photo-protection.

Better still, combining the beta-carotene with lycopene and lutein boosted its protective effects even further.

Lutein, along with astaxanthin and zeaxanthin, exhibits skin-protective benefits of its own. All three carotenoids are well-known and appreciated for their role in reducing risk for age-related macular degeneration, but studies show that daily lutein supplementation can increase skin hydration, reduce lipid peroxidation and enhance skin elasticity—in addition to strengthening the skin’s natural antioxidant system. Researchers in the Department of Applied Cosmetic Dermatology at the University of Naples, Italy, demonstrated that 12 weeks of oral supplementation with 10 mg of lutein per day, in conjunction with topical lutein application of 50 ppm, protected the skin against solar radiation, improved skin hydration and elasticity, and increased superficial lipid levels. Quantitatively, the researchers found the lutein treatment decreased lipid oxidation by 55%.

Code Red

Lycopene is a carotenoid whose photo-protective benefits have been demonstrated thoroughly. Lycopene is found in a number of fruits and vegetables, where it lends a telltale red color, but the signature source for natural, biologically active lycopene is the tomato. “We get lycopene from red, ripe tomatoes, where Mother Nature built it in to protect the fruits themselves from the full range of the sun’s light, from UV through visible,” Alroy says. In tomatoes and other lycopene-rich plants, the pigment confers its protection with the help of other antioxidant carotenoids, such as the colorless phytoene and phytofluene, which absorb light in the UV range—while lycopene’s absorption maxima lies in the visible range. A 1989 study published in the Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics found that it is lycopene’s unique double-bonded structure that makes it the most efficient quencher of singlet oxygen among the biologically occurring carotenoids.

The tomato antioxidants operate in the human body much as they do in the tomato, providing skin cells with broad-based solar protection. Lycopene’s skin-protecting capacity has proven itself in numerous studies. For example, in 2009, scientists at the Dermatology Consulting Institute in High Point, North Carolina, found that subjects treated to 10 weeks of daily oral supplementation with 10 mg of lycopene* experienced a threefold reduction in sunburn cells after exposure to 2 MEDs (minimal erythemal doses) of UVB and UVA radiation—as compared to subjects taking a soybean-oil placebo.