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Tomatoes and red grapefruit that have high levels of lycopene

Topical Lycopene Improves Skin Cellular Function

Studies indicate that topically applied lycopene defends against skin aging by helping to stabilize DNA structure in the nucleus of skin cells, enhancing skin-cell signaling and function, and inhibiting enzymatic activity involved in collagen breakdown.

Scientifically reviewed by: Dr. Vanessa Pavey, ND, in August 2023. Written by: Gary Goldfaden, MD And Robert Goldfaden.

Lycopene: A Protective Antioxidant Compound

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

Lycopene Sources

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

Lycopene Sources

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

What You Need to Know: Lycopene Provides Potent Protection Against Skin Aging
Lycopene Provides Potent Protection Against Skin Aging
  • Lycopene belongs to a general group of more than 600 fat-soluble plant compounds known as carotenoids.
  • Some of the fruits and vegetables that are known to be rich in lycopene are tomatoes, pink grapefruit, papaya, wolfberry, and goji.
  • Research shows that topical application of lycopene plays an integral role in stabilizing DNA structure in the nucleus of the skin cells as well as maintaining the DNA double strand-break repair pathway.
  • Lycopene's ability to enhance connectivity and communication between cells can noticeably improve your skin's texture by aiding cellular functions that are essential to keeping your skin looking young.
  • Lycopene may also strengthen your skin by inhibiting the activity of enzymes involved in the destruction and breakdown of collagen.

A Free Radical Scavenger

Cell Communication Enhancer

When compared to other antioxidants, such as vitamin E, lycopene is a more potent scavenger of the free radicals that contribute to aging and chronic disease.10 Due to the fact that lycopene is concentrated in your cell membranes, its free-radical scavenging ability plays a vital role in preventing oxidative damage to the membrane lipids, thereby influencing the thickness, strength, and fluidity of your membranes.10 Because these cell membranes are the gatekeepers of your cells, allowing nutrients to be absorbed, preventing toxins from entering, and facilitating the removal of waste products, maintaining the health and integrity of your cell membranes is a key factor in the prevention of aging.

Cell Communication Enhancer

Besides protecting your skin cells from free radical damage and enhancing certain aspects of cell metabolism, lycopene also appears to produce its beneficial effects by improving the operation of cell-to-cell junctions.11 Also known as gap junctions, they coordinate cellular behavior by directly connecting the cytoplasm of two cells so that molecules and ions can pass freely between them.12,13 Gap junction communication can be found in all the different tissues of your body, with skeletal muscle and mobile cell types like sperm or red blood cells being the only exceptions.13 Gap junctions are particularly important to your skin because it is highly dependent upon intercellular communication for vital metabolic processes related to growth and reproduction. Lycopene's ability to enhance connectivity between cells may noticeably improve your skin's texture by aiding cellular functions that are essential to keeping your skin looking young.

Collagen Protector

Lycopene may also strengthen your skin by inhibiting the activity of enzymes involved in the destruction of collagen.14 This reaction breaks down the peptide bonds in the collagen fibers of your skin, resulting in gradual loss of integrity and the appearance of sags and wrinkles. Lycopene down-regulates collagenase and helps maintain natural firmness.

If you have any questions on the scientific content of this article, please call a Life Extension® Health Advisor at 1-866-864-3027.

Editor's Note

Science continues to evolve, and new research is published daily. As such, we have a more recent article on this topic: Retinol Blend Reverses Skin Aging


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