Is Lycopene the Next Big Thing in Skin Care?

By Michael A. Smith, MD

Pink grapefruit, papaya, and (of course) tomatoes are all rich sources of lycopene. Recently, the unique chemical structure of this bright red carotene has been shown to protect against UV skin damage.

Skin that’s damaged by the sun loses its texture, tone and elasticity. Unfortunately, crow’s feet and deep wrinkles are usually soon to follow.

A new study conducted at Mount Sinai School of Medicine examined lycopene’s protective properties against UVB radiation when applied to the skin.

By activating a critical skin enzyme, lycopene was shown to protect the most important part of a skin cell — its DNA.

Let’s dig into the details below.

Lycopene Repairs Skin Cell’s DNA

When applied to the skin, researchers found that lycopene reduced inflammation, maintained normal cell proliferation, and prevented DNA damage.1

This means that lycopene can protect skin cell DNA, negating the need for the body to activate its own internal repair mechanisms. This is important because as we age, our internal repair mechanisms don’t work as well and our skin becomes increasingly damaged.

Now besides activating an enzyme for repairing DNA, lycopene was also found to prevent the loss of proliferating cell nuclear antigen, or PCNA, following UVB exposure (the same radiation from the sun).

This protein plays a role in protecting skin cell DNA as well. But sunlight, specifically UVB radiation, reduces PCNA levels, leaving skin cell DNA vulnerable to double strand-breaks.1

So this unique red carotene, with its DNA repair properties, is likely set to become a major player in skin care products in the near future.

Lycopene Improves Skin Cell Communication

Besides helping to repair skin cell’s DNA, lycopene also appears to produce its beneficial effects by improving the operation of cell-to-cell junctions.2

These junctions are also called gap junctions. These gaps or junctions between cells allow for chemical messengers to pass between skin cells, coordinating their behavior.

Gap junctions are important to your skin because it is highly dependent upon intercellular communication for vital metabolic processes related to skin cell repair and growth.

As such, lycopene’s ability to enhance cell-to-cell communication may help with your skin’s texture, tone and elasticity as well.

Lycopene Protects Collagen in the Skin

Healthy, youthful looking skin is all about collagen. Collagen is the main structural protein in the skin. When it becomes damaged, your skin sags and wrinkles appear. So it’s vital to protect collagen in your skin, if diminishing wrinkles is a priority for you.

Well, here comes lycopene again. Research shows that lycopene can inhibit the breakdown of collagen by blocking the collagenase enzyme.3

This means that the red carotene can protect your skin’s integrity and even help prevent the development of future wrinkles. Pretty amazing, isn’t it?

What You Need to Know

Lycopene could be the next star ingredient in future skin care products. As a matter of fact, we predict you’ll see it introduced into a number of your favorite skincare products over the next year or two.

Why? Because lycopene protects skin cell DNA, prevents the loss of PCNA and collagen and improves skin cell communication — all necessary mechanisms for healthy, youthful looking skin.

We’re looking forward to seeing how this plays out in additional research as well as in practical use. From here, the future of this red carotene looks very, very bright!


  1. Available at:
  2. Food Chem Toxicol. 2003 Oct;41(10):1399-407.
  3. Nutr Biochem. 2007 Jul;18(7):449-56.


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