Here comes the sun, little darling, but it’s all right, thanks to the solar-powered, super-duper, sun-protecting tomato.
Mother Nature knew what she was doing when she made the tomato. She packed it with powerful sun-protecting compounds called antioxidant carotenoids to protect the fruit from the sun’s damaging rays. One of the compounds, lycopene, gives tomatoes their telltale red color, and it’s also a Super Bowl champion when it comes to sun protecting. A 1989 study published in the Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics found lycopene to be the most efficient quencher of singlet oxygen among the biologically occurring carotenoids.
What does that mean?
A lot, if you spend much time in the sun. Our glowing giver of light, heat and energy in the sky is also a major source of wrinkles, painful sunburns and the kinds of DNA damage that can lead to skin cancer. Some estimates of the extent to which skin damage is the result of solar radiation run as high as 90%, and you don’t have to spend all day at the beach to feel the heat. Those quick, everyday exposures — standing at the bus stop, grabbing lunch at that awesome takeout place, taking the
dog cat for a walk — also add up over the years and put your skin’s health and your appearance at risk.
When UV light penetrates the skin, it doesnâ€™t just cause sunburns. It also causes the formation of UV-induced free radicals, destroys tissues, oxidizes lipids and hacks genes. Skin cells donâ€™t turn over as quickly, wounds take longer to heal, and skin becomes less elastic, thinner, rougher and blotchy.
Clothes and topical sunscreens help, but sunscreens aren’t perfect (many break down in a matter of minutes), and who wants to wear long sleeves and pants in the middle of summer? Sunscreens can also bring about a false sense of security. A better bet is to buttress the skin’s own natural defenses by augmenting topical skin protection from the inside out.
Some of the most potent carotenoids include lycopene, alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lutein, phytoene, phytofluene, astaxanthin and zeaxanthin. Numerous studies have shown how effective these antioxidants are in protecting against sun damage. By filling our cellular stockpiles of these free-radical quenching compounds that also, in some cases, reduce collagen breakdown, we can do ourselves a big favor when it comes to our skin.
IMPORTANT: After I published this post, reader Jenny asked that I emphasize that “sunscreen is ALWAYS a good idea, and should be everyone’s primary sun protection method (aside from shade, of course).” I completely agree, Jenny. A little clarification can’t hurt when we’re talking about something as important as this.
A 2009 study by the Dermatology Consulting Institute in High Point, North Carolina (“Enjoying Your Day in the Sun: Defending Skin From the Inside Out,” Global Cosmetic Industry, May 2011), showed that people orally supplementing with 10 mg of lycopene per day for 10 weeks had one third the number of sunburn cells after exposure to doses of UVA and UVB radiation than a group taking a placebo (one average 4-oz. red tomato contains about 3.5 mg of lycopene). And all signs suggest that natural sources of carotenoid compounds like lycopene deliver more potent protection than synthetic versions of the same ingredients do.
Yet another reason to load up that yummy salad with tomatoes.
Your friendly neighborhood beauty addict,
P.S. Watermelon is another excellent source of lycopene, which with all of the watermelon I’ve been eating lately must mean I’m at like SPF 300 right now, haha!
P.P.S. Totally unrelated, but anyone seen the last Harry Potter movie yet??