Human skin is the largest organ of the body, and it is responsible for many functions, including acting as a first line of defense from external pathogens, protecting against water loss and regulating body temperature. It also functions as an “aesthetic” interface—a collection of physical attributes that form the basis of first impressions by which people measure their ideas of beauty.
Healthy skin begins with proper nutrition that builds beauty from the inside. Vitamins like E and C are known to support skin health, but other nutrients including carotenoids—and specifically lutein and zeaxanthin isomers (RR- and RS [meso]-zeaxanthin)—may be just as important in building a whole-body, first-line defense against environmental assaults.
The skin is made up of several different layers. The deepest layers—the dermis and hypodermis—contain connective tissue (such as elastin and collagen) and provide nutritive support to the outer layer of the skin, the epidermis. Environmental factors play a big part in premature aging of the skin. The most well-known being exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun which contributes to photo-aging characterized by changes in pigmentation (i.e., dark-spots and freckles) and degradation of collagen, leading to fine lines and wrinkles.
Most ingredients for skin support are topical and aimed at increasing hydration, softening, barrier function or supplying antioxidants to serve as a first line of defense against the sun and pollution. However, topical nutrients are limited by their ability to penetrate the outer layer and provide a “whole body” approach to skin health. Dietary supplementation can support beauty from the inside, shoring up the body’s internal skin health defense.
Antioxidants are essential for the skin, especially since overexposure to UV light can cause a reduction in the antioxidant supply, thereby increasing oxidative stress. Supplementation with nutrients like N-acetylcysteine, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and vitamins such as E and C have shown some success in improving skin health.1
Another class of compounds that function as potent antioxidants are carotenoids. These compounds are plant-derived and must be consumed from the diet. The most notable of the carotenoid family are beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein and zeaxanthin. Although beta-carotene has been studied for its effects on skin health, it is not generally recommended for long-term supplementation because of carotenosis – a harmless orange discoloration of the skin that is reversible when discontinuing intake. Reports of increased lung cancer rates have also been shown with long-term supplementation with beta-carotene.1 Lycopene, the carotenoid found abundantly in tomatoes, has also shown positive outcomes in skin health studies.1
A study of a combination of ingredients, including lutein and zeaxanthin, fatty acids and vitamin D showed improved tolerability to UV light exposure.2 .3 Furthermore, daily supplementation with carotenoids in the form of a kale extract prevented collagen degradation and improved the extracellular matrix.4
Another study investigated the direct effects of macular carotenoid supplementation on skin. In this 12-week, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel study, participants supplemented with either a placebo or 10 mg of lutein and 2 mg of zeaxanthin isomers (as Lutemax® 2020 from OmniActive Health Technologies). After 12-weeks, Lutemax 2020 resulted in an improvement in overall skin tone, whiteness/brightness, photo-protection and skin firmness.5
Beauty and skin aging require a delicate balance between providing the right nutrients topically and internally to help offset the internal and external forces that impact skin health. Although much work has been done to improve healthy skin from the outside, supplementation with key nutrients including carotenoids such as lutein and zeaxanthin can complement a whole-body approach to beauty.
Melinda Culver, Ph.D., is director of scientific affairs, OmniActive Health Technologies.
- Souyoul S, Saussy K, Lupo M. “Nutraceuticals: A Review.” Dermatol Ther (Heidelb). 2018;8(1):5-16.
- Morse N, Reid A, St-Onge M. “An open-label clinical trial assessing the efficacy and safety of Bend Skincare Anti-Aging Formula on minimal erythema dose in skin.” Photodermatol Photoimmunol Photomed. 2018;34(2):152-161.
- Conrady C et al. “Correlations Between Macular, Skin, and Serum Carotenoids.” Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2017;58(9):3616-3627.
- Meinke M C et al. “Influences of Orally Taken Carotenoid-Rich Curly Kale Extract on Collagen I/Elastin Index of the Skin.” Nutrients. 2017;9(7).
- Juturu V, Bowman J, Deshpande J. “Overall skin tone and skin-lightening-improving effects with oral supplementation of lutein and zeaxanthin isomers: a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial.” Clinical Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology. 2016;9:325-332.