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You are here: Anti-Aging Skin Treatments > Topical Actives >

Lycopene: antioxidant and sunscreen in one.

Lycopene is a natural compound that belongs to a class of compounds called carotenes. Carotenes are plant pigments that share certain elements of chemical structure and usually have color somewhere in the orange-red-brown range. To one degree or another, different carotenes can scavenge free radicals and block visible and UV-light.

Lycopene may be the best free radical scavenger among carotens - it is at least twice as effective an antioxidant as beta carotene. In recent years, a number of studies indicated a variety of health benefits of lycopene, including reduced risk of cancer, heart diseases and other chronic conditions. In addition to protecting cells from free radical damage, lycopene may produce its beneficial effect by other means, such as improving the function of cell-to-cell junctions and some aspects of cell metabolism. Being fat soluble, lycopene appears to be particularly effective in the tissues with high fat and lipid content. For example, it significantly reduces the risk of cancer of the prostate, an organ very high in lipids. The skin, also a lipid-rich organ, is likely to benefit from high antioxidant activity of lycopene. Theoretically, lycopene's ability to regulate cell-to-cell junctions might provide an additional benefit of improving skin texture.

The ability of lycopene to block UV light is an additional benefit for the skin. However, lycopene has SPF of about 3, which is insufficient to protect from direct sun or any other harsh UV exposure. On the other hand, it is enough to reduce the effects of indirect sunlight or the sunlight that has passed through window glass. For people who do not wish to use sunblock at all times, an alternative strategy may be to wear a sunblock (SPF 15 or greater) outdoors, and use a lycopene lotion at other times.

What is the best way to get skin benefits of lycopene? As with most other non-invasive treatments, you can either put it on or ingest it. The best food source of lycopene is tomatoes. There is a catch though. In raw tomatoes, lycopene is tightly bound to indigestible fiber. Therefore eating raw tomatoes provides relatively small amounts of bioavailable lycopene. Cooked tomatoes, such as tomato paste or tomato sauce are a much better dietary source of lycopene. However, to get any appreciable health and skin benefit of lycopene you need to eat at least 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of tomato paste a day. An easier way may be to use lycopene supplements which are widely available in health food stores.

Dietary intake may not be sufficient to maximize skin benefits of lycopene. When ingested, lycopene is distributed throughout the entire body and only relatively small amount finds its way into the skin. Luckily, lycopene is well absorbed if applied topically (e.g. in a cream or lotion) because it is fat soluble and has relatively small molecules. The only possible downside of topical application is that lycopene may give your skin a bit of a tint (in the orange-red-bronze range). Some people enjoy this look as it resembles a light, fresh tan while others prefer to minimize it and therefore use lycopene lotions at night. The way lycopene looks on you may depend on your skin complexion as well as your choice of makeup. However, you will get the antioxidant, UV-protection and possibly other anti-aging benefits of lycopene regardless of your skin type or complexion.

How to get lycopene skin care products? We don't sell or promote and particular lycopene products since the mission of this site is to provide unbiased, well researched information. Commercial lycopene creams and lotions are available (just search the web). However, they tend to be relatively expensive, more so than the cost of lycopene would seem to justify. Another problem with the products containing topical lycopene or other antioxidants is that once a jar has been opened (or if it is intact but poorly sealed), the contents starts to degrade due to exposure to oxygen in the air. A viable alternative is to make your own lycopene cream or lotion. It is surprisingly easy to do and allows you to have topical lycopene that is both fresh and costs many times less than most commercial alternatives. For specific instructions on DIY lycopene cream or lotion, see DIY Anti-Aging Skin Care Infopack.

Notably, lycopene has a chemical cousin astaxanthin, a carotenoid that also appears to possess skin and health benefits. (See our astaxanthin article for details.) In many ways astaxanthin works similarly to lycopene. However, there are also important differences between the two indicating that they are not fully interchangeable. In fact, combining lycopene and astaxanthin may produce the best results. Whereas very few (if any) skin care products include both these agents, astaxanthin and lycopene are fully compatible and can be easily combined in a DIY formula (see DIY Infopack).


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