Exposing our skin to the bright burning light of our nearest star - the sun - is most desirable for many reasons. But remember, if you are trying to improve or keep the last vestige of that summer tan or naturally increase your vitamin D levels or simply wish to feel the warmth from that distant blazing fire, it’s always a good idea to protect against the potentially harmful effects of too much UV (ultra violet) radiance.
While using a sun block cream can be very effective, researchers are now discovering that certain foods in our diet can positively affect the skin’s natural protective capacity. Human trials have shown that lycopene absorbed from cooked or processed tomatoes can build up a photo protective barrier in the skin that shields against the harmful effects of ultra violet radiation from the sun. This is perhaps not so surprising, as the very same effect is the mother nature’s purpose of lycopene in the tomato skin itself, to protect the fruit against the sun. What lycopene does for the fruit, it can do for you.
So exactly how does it work?
Our skin is the largest organ of the body and an important barrier protecting against pathogenic organisms and toxic agents. It mediates exchanges with the surroundings (like temperature regulation and sensation) but also plays a major role in insulation. Skin represents a storage center for lipids and water and is the location of UV-dependent vitamin D synthesis.
Light penetrates the skin and interacts with biological structures at the different layers. The penetration depth of light depends on structural features and pigmentation, which influence absorption, reflection, and scattering; the longer the wavelength, the deeper the light penetration. Upon light exposure, a cascade of photo-induced chemical and biological reactions takes place in the target tissue. Reactive oxygen species (ROS) (free radicals) are generated in photooxidative processes and damage molecules and cellular structures.
UV-irradiation of human skin leads to photo-oxidative damage associated with adverse effects on skin health and appearance. Endogenous supply of the skin with micronutrients may contribute to photo-protection. Carotenoids are important components of the light-protecting system in plants and prevent UV damage in humans. The protective properties have been attributed to the pronounced antioxidant effects of these compounds. Lycopene is the major carotenoid of the tomato and a very efficient antioxidant. Human intervention studies provide evidence that skin can be protected against UV-dependent lesions by supplying lycopene or a lycopene-rich diet.
Text extracts from Tomatoes, Lycopene & Human Health, Preventing Chronic Diseases © 2007
Chapter title: Lycopene in Photo-protection and Skin Care, by Prof. Dr. W. Stahl Heinrich-Heine-University Dusseldorf, Germany.