Hair, Skin, Nails : Protect Skin from Within with Lycopene

The summertime sunshine feels particularly good this year after what was a long winter and barely there spring in many regions of the country. But while you soak up the warmth, it's important to protect your skin from the sun's harmful rays. An easy -- and tasty -- way to protect against sunburn and sun-induced skin aging is to consume plenty of foods rich in lycopene.

Lycopene is a naturally occurring antioxidant compound that gives tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables their red color. It's one of many pigments referred to as carotenoids. Lycopene is found in particularly high amounts in tomatoes and tomato products. Watermelon, pink grapefruit, guava, papaya, and apricots are also sources of this antioxidant.

Studies find that people whose diets are rich in lycopene have a lower risk of some cancers, including prostate, lung, and stomach. Research also shows benefits for heart and eye health. Lycopene is especially important for the skin -- in one study, people who consumed tomato paste were found to have 33 percent greater protection against sunburn compared to a control group. This level of protection was equivalent to a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 1.3, reported researchers. The benefits were attributed to lycopene's antioxidant activity.

In the same study, skin samples indicated that the individuals who supplemented with tomato paste also had higher levels of pro-collagen in the skin. Pro-collagen gives skin its structure, and a loss of pro-collagen leads to skin aging and lack of elasticity.

"The tomato diet boosted the level of pro-collagen in the skin significantly," reported co-researcher Lesley Rhodes. "These increasing levels suggest potential reversal of the skin aging process. This is in addition to the significant reduction in sunburn."

Tomatoes also contain vitamins, minerals, and other carotenoids and antioxidants that contribute to their protective effects, so make them a part of your diet today. A caprese salad with fresh tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella captures the tastes of summer perfectly. Roast tomatoes on low heat and add them to salads and pasta dishes. The body absorbs lycopene and other carotenoids better with a little fat, so include some olive oil in your tomato dishes.

Not a fan of tomatoes? Lycopene is available in supplements as well. You'll find lycopene in many prostate, eye health, and skin health formulas as well as individually. So enjoy the sun this summer, but be sure to grab your sunscreen -- and your lycopene.

© 2014 Living Naturally
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