Topical Lycopene Improves Skin Cellular FunctionSeptember 2012
By Gary Goldfaden, MD And Robert Goldfaden
New research on lycopene, a unique carotenoid, has shown it has an ability to defend against some of the factors of skin aging.
Topical application of lycopene combats age-causing free radicals and assists in metabolic functions related to growth and repair.
Lycopene: A Protective Antioxidant Compound
Lycopene belongs to a general group of more than 600 fat-soluble plant compounds known as carotenoids.1,2 Lycopene is also classified as a carotene, which gives many fruits and vegetables their bright yellow, red, and orange color.2 Aside from performing vital functions during photosynthesis, carotenes are also important free radical scavengers that protect the organism from overexposure to damaging UV-light. Lycopene's antioxidant and UV-blocking capabilities naturally make it a valuable weapon in the battle against aging skin.2,3
Some of the fruits and vegetables rich in lycopene include pink grapefruit, papaya, wolfberry, goji, and tomatoes. For the vast majority of people, the most common dietary sources of lycopene remains tomatoes, tomato-based sauces, juices, and ketchup.2
It should be noted that eating raw tomatoes provides only a small amount of bioavailable lycopene.4 This is because the lycopene in raw tomatoes is tightly bound to indigestible fiber that prevents much of the nutrients from being absorbed by your body.5 On the other hand, cooked tomato products such as tomato paste or tomato sauce, are a much better source of dietary lycopene.5 As far as the health of your skin is concerned, even eating cooked tomatoes may not deliver sufficient lycopene to your skin. After ingestion, lycopene is eventually released into your lymphatic system and distributed throughout your whole body. Unfortunately, it is mostly deposited in fat-rich organs like your adrenal glands, colon, and liver.5,6 In the end, only a small fraction of the lycopene you eat ever reaches your skin.
However, the fat soluble nature and relatively small molecule size of this powerful plant nutrient make it easily absorbed when applied topically in a cream or lotion. Moreover, because lycopene is especially effective in tissues with high fat content, the lipid-rich environment of the skin provides a very receptive target for its potent anti-aging benefits.7
The Many Anti-Aging Benefits of Lycopene
Lycopene's powerful antioxidant action and ability to defend your skin against UV radiation are due in large part to its unique molecular design, which is responsible for lycopene's red appearance and its ability to block UV light. Though lycopene's sun protection is only equivalent to approximately SPF-3 and isn't adequate sun protection by itself, it is still a valuable added benefit for your skin.8
In fact, a study conducted by the Department of Dermatology at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, examined topically-applied lycopene's ability to defend against the harmful effects of UVB radiation. It was found that topical application of lycopene suppressed the typical UVB-induced activity of an enzyme called ornithine decarboxylase, an important initiating and rate-controlling factor involved in stabilizing DNA structure in the nucleus of the skin cells as well as maintaining the DNA double strand-break repair pathway.9 What this means is that lycopene was able to offer significant protection to the cellular DNA and thus negated the need for the body to activate its internal DNA repair pathways.
The same study also revealed that UVB radiation depleted an important substance in your skin known as PCNA (proliferating cell nuclear antigen), which is vital for DNA synthesis and cell repair. The topical application of lycopene was found to reverse the reduction of PCNA caused by UVB exposure to a significant degree. In addition, it was shown that lycopene may also protect your skin through its ability to reduce inflammation, encourage cell renewal, and inhibit normal DNA damage following UVB injury.9