Tomatoes reduce skin ageing

Most women – and increasing numbers of men – worry about skin ageing and nothing worries women more than the damage caused by the sun.  Age spots, premature wrinkles, sagging skin – we love the sun we just hate what it does to us.

Look at any women’s magazine or visit any skin care forum online and questions about reversing or preventing sun damage take up a lot of copy space.

Increasingly women are demanding natural solutions to skin aging and a familiar and much loved kitchen ingredient could be the answer – the tomato.Or to be more precise – tomato paste.

According to researchers at the Universities of Newcastle and Manchester the humble tomato could be the new weapon in the fight against sun damage.In a study recently presented at the British Society for Investigative Dermatology, eating tomato paste could help protect against sunburn and sun induced skin ageing.

“…this research suggests that a diet containing high levels of antioxidant rich tomatoes could provide an extra tool in sun protection.” Nina Goad, British Association of Dermatologists

In the study, researchers compared the skin of 20 people, half of whom were given five tablespoons (55g) of standard tomato paste with 10g of olive oil every day, with the other half receiving just olive oil, over a period of 12 weeks.

The skin was exposed to ultraviolet (UV) light – which is found naturally in sunlight – at the beginning and end of the trial. The team found significant improvements in the skin’s ability to protect itself against UV in the group who had been eating tomato paste.

Professor Lesley Rhodes, dermatologist at the University of Manchester, said that the tomato diet boosted the level of procollagen in the skin significantly and that these increasing levels suggested a potential reversal of the skin ageing process. Procollagen is the molecule which gives the skin its structure and it is the decline or loss of procollagen which leads to skin ageing and loss of elasticity.

“These weren’t huge amounts of tomato we were feeding the group. It was the sort of quantity you would easily manage if you were eating a lot of tomato-based meals. Professor Lesley Rhodes, Manchester University

Many of the harmful effects of UV light are due to the excess production of harmful molecules or ‘reactive oxygen species’ which can damage important skin structures. Sun damage from UV exposure includes premature wrinkles and skin cancer.

The tomato’s key skin saving property is lycopene – a powerful antioxidant which is able to neutralise the harmful molecules.Lycopene is, of course, found in a number of red fruit and vegetables, but the highest level of lycopene is found in cooked tomatoes and the most obvious and readily available source is tomato paste.

Compared to the control group, the group who had eaten the paste were found to have 33 per cent more protection against sunburn, which can lead to skin cancer. The researchers calculated the protection offered by the tomato paste to be equivalent to a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 1.3.

The effects of the tomato diet on skin ageing was assessed by the Manchester team comparing skin samples taken from both groups, before and after trial.

Meanwhile, collaborators at Newcastle University found that the lycopene had reduced damage to mitochondrial DNA in the skin, which is also believed to be linked with skin ageing.

“Eating tomatoes will not make you invincible in the sun, but it may be a useful addition to sun protection along with sunscreens, shade and clothing.” Professor Mark Birch-Machin, University of Newcastle

Mitochondria are the key energy producers in all body cells including the skin so as the study concluded: “being kind to our mitochondria is likely to contribute to improved skin health, which in turn may have an anti ageing effect.”

With so many interesting possibilities for dermatologists, the team is now looking to start a new, longer term study into the protective effects of lycopene on the skin.

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