Tomatoes and carrots… photoprotection from within?

Most of us have been spun a myth that eating our crusts will make our hair shiny, and that we should eat carrots for night vision. But what about natural foods that may enhance the skin’s resistance to ultraviolet damage?

A small group of researchers from the UK and Denmark reviewed current research on systemic photoprotection, i.e., where the protection process happens from within the body, as opposed to an external, topical photoprotection (such as sunscreen). Whilst the group concluded that their interpretation of the studies was limited due to the way the research was designed, there were some interesting findings.

Precursors of vitamin A (carotenoids) are anti-oxidant micronutrients found in fruits and vegetables. Carrots and tomatoes are the two main sources. A study within the review reported that daily supplementation of carotenoids in humans, either as tomato-based supplement or lutein (a type of carotenoid), reduced photodamage by lowering UV-induced oxidative stress, a major cause of premature skin ageing.

In a separate trial, skin radiance and elasticity were found to significantly improve after supplementation with a food supplement containing vitamins A, C, D3, E, carotenoids, green tea, pomegranate extract, polypodium and grape extracts. It has to be noted that the study was an open prospective single centre trial, meaning the possibility of a placebo effect cannot be ruled out.

The review also investigates – amongst other compounds – the over the counter supplement nicotinamide (vitamin B3), isoflavones (which are found in soybeans), and flavonoids (found in green tea and cocoa extract).

The mechanisms by which each of these photoprotectants may work are not fully understood. However, vitamin B3 is thought to assist with regulation of the immune system, through its role in cellular metabolism and DNA repair. Pomegranate extract has anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant effects which help to combat UV-induced free radicals, and cellular damage.

Various systemic supplements suggest a potential use in combination with topical sunscreens, but not yet as a replacement.

Despite advances in our understanding and use of photoprotective measures, global skin cancer rates are on the rise. This reveals an urgent unmet need for new treatments, not only for the estimated 2-3 million non-melanoma skin cancer patients around the world, but also as protection for all of us experiencing premature skin ageing, cellular inflammation and stress caused by inadequate photoprotective options.

At CLINUVEL, we are driven to better understand the interaction between skin and the world around us. Our research and development team are constantly working to push the boundaries of photoprotection, and want to share the learnings from over four decades of studying the effects of light on skin. To find out more about our pioneering developments, head to our website.

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