The antioxidant lycopene, found in tomatoes, can help limit the skin-damaging effects of UV radiation.
We're all exposed to a certain degree of ultraviolet (UV) radiation, whether that's from outdoor sun exposure or from UV radiation through a window. Over time, the cumulative effects of that radiation start to appear on our skin as visible sun damage.
That means bad news for your skin. That damage will eventually appear on your skin as brown spots, fine lines and wrinkles. Over time, you'll start to see deeper wrinkles and a sagging jawline.
Here's the good news: We now know that certain foods can help block the damaging effects of the sun.
Different foods protect the skin in different ways, and several have shown significant promise in research studies. One type of food that we should all be consuming more of is antioxidant-rich foods.
We hear a lot about antioxidants, because they're so powerful. These substances fight inflammation in the skin, and can help preserve its structure, function, and appearance.
That's one of the reasons we recommend tomatoes.
Tomatoes are a great source of nutrients, including a particular antioxidant called lycopene.
Foods high in lycopene include tomatoes, as well as other red or pink fruits and vegetables, such as watermelon, pink grapefruit, and papaya. Lycopene has been studied extensively in laboratory and animal studies, and results have been very promising. Results have been so promising, in fact, that tomato paste has been studied in humans.
In one study, volunteers ate about 2 tablespoons of tomato paste in olive oil every day for 10 weeks. A comparison group consumed only olive oil. At the start and end of the study, the volunteers were exposed to UV radiation. After this UV exposure, the intensity of the sunburn reaction on the skin was measured.
Following 10 weeks of daily tomato paste, the volunteers experienced a 1/3 reduction in the level of redness following UV irradiation. (Redness was measured directly before and 24 hours after UV irradiation.) This was a much greater reduction than the group consuming olive oil only.
In other words, a daily serving of tomato paste actually reduced the risk of a sunburn reaction.
Another study was even able to show protection on a cellular level. In this study, volunteers consumed tomato paste in olive oil every day for 12 weeks. (They consumed close to 4 tablespoons of tomato paste daily.)
At the end of 12 weeks, they also experienced less skin redness following UV exposure.
They even showed less damage on a cellular level. Specifically, they experienced a reduction in levels of a collagen-destroying enzyme that would normally be elevated following UV exposure.
In other words, a daily serving of tomato paste seemed to help these subjects protect their collagen from UV damage.
With studies like this, it's becoming more clear that we should be fighting sun damage from the outside AND the inside. That means ongoing sun protection AND the right types of foods.
The bottom line: block the sun with sunblock AND block sun damage with nutrients.
Dr. Rajani Katta is the author of Glow: The Dermatologist's Guide to a Whole Foods Younger Skin Diet. To receive future updates on preventive dermatology and the role of diet, sign up here.