Lycopene is an antioxidant. Antioxidants help slow the damage from “free radicals” released during our body’s metabolism or from other environmental stresses such as smoking. Lycopene is also a carotenoid. Çarotenoids are found in tomatoes and other foods that have a red or orangish color and are believed to have photoprotective qualities that can block UV light.
Lycopene has received attention as an anti-cancer agent particularly in the prevention of prostate cancer. The prostate is high in fat and lipids, which is believed to contribute to lycopene’s effectiveness. Since skin also has a high lipid content, lycopene is thought to exert it benefits there as well and some think it may even help to improve skin texture.
One research study performed in 2005 by Dr. Wilhelm Stahls and Helmet Sties explored whether a diet supplemented with lycopene from tomatoes, tomato sources or carrots could really provide photoprotection from UV radiation. They monitored volunteers for 10 to 12 weeks and each were each given lycopene from a different source.
Five divided groups of volunteers each day either consumed or drank almost two ounces of tomato paste with olive oil, 13 ounces of carrot juice, two capsules of lycopene soft gel supplements made from tomato extract, 16 ounces of a lycopene drink or two synthetic lycopene hard shell capsules.
The measurements of photoprotection were made based on a calculation of how much UV light it took to turn the skin red (erythema). This was done before the study was started and 24 hours after the skin was exposed to UV light radiation in the fourth and twelfth week.
What the researchers found was that the major effect occurred for all groups in the tenth to twelfth week as the lycopene levels in their skin increased. The tomato olive oil group had a 40 percent improvement in their skin’s ability to resist the effects of the UV light, the carrot group had a greater benefit of 45 percent and the lycopene drink group had values of 50 percent. The lycopene gel cap group only showed a significant benefit at the twelfth week and the synthetic lycopene group did not have a significant improvement at all.