Carotenoid Supplements May Protect Skin from Sunburn

BACKGROUND: Several studies have found that supplemental beta-carotene, an antioxidant carotenoid found in vegetables and fruits, can reduce susceptibility to sunburn. The beta-carotene likely quenches free radicals, which can promote the inflammation and skin cell damage characteristic of sunburn.

RESEARCH: In a 12-week study, researchers asked 12 young and middle-aged

subjects to take 24 mg of beta-carotene from a natural source of Dunaliella salina algae, daily. Another 12 subjects took a mixed-carotenoid supplement containing 8 mg each of natural beta-carotene, lutein, and lycopene per day. A third group of 12 subjects took a placebo. The subjects' sensitivity to UV-simulated sunburn (erythema) on their backs was measured at the beginning of the study, after six weeks and at the end of the study. Carotenoid levels in serum and skin also were measured.

RESULTS: After three months of supplementation with either of the carotenoid supplements, the degree of sunburn was significantly less than the subjects had experienced at the beginning of the study. Both carotenoid supplements provided comparable protection. Serum and skin levels of carotenoids significantly increased after 6 and 12 weeks of supplementation. No changes occurred in subjects taking the placebo.

IMPLICATIONS: This study found that either a natural beta-carotene or mixed-carotenoid supplement (typical of the mix of carotenoids found in fruits and vegetables) provides similar protection against sunburn. The researchers concluded that "The extent of protection with ingested carotenoids is not comparable to the use of a sunscreen with a high sun protection factor. However, increasing the basal protection systematically contributes to the permanent defense against UV light-mediated skin

Heinrich U, Gaertner C, Wiebusch M, et al, "Supplementation with beta- carotene or a similar amount of mixed carotenoids protects humans from UV- induced erythema," Journal of Nutrition, 2003;133(1):98-101.

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