Growing season is pretty much over for tomatoes. Hopefully, by now you’ve canned or puréed all that you’ll need for the next season’s spaghetti, soups and skin care. Skin care? Yes.
Tomato-based skin (and hair) care has made headlines1, 2 and videos3 in recent years for its ability to treat everything from large pores and acne, to rashes, hair loss, sunburn or simply to revive the glow of dull skin. What gives it this edge?
Natural Pigment Power
You’ve probably heard of lycopene. It’s one of the carotenoids—the yellow, orange and red-colored, fat-soluble natural pigments that give plants like pumpkins or autumn leaves their color. Lycopene in particular is reddish colored and found in pink grapefruit, papaya, wolfberry or goji berry, and yes, tomatoes.4
A recent study4 shows that supplementing your diet with lycopene-rich, tomato-based products can lower markers for oxidative stress and carcinogenesis in the skin. Some evidence also suggests that lycopene supplements, taken for 10-12 weeks, can decrease the erythema caused by too much UV exposure.4. So, Mom was right. Eating your fruits and veggies is good for you. But what about their topical application?
The same source4 noted that the effects of topically applied lycopene have not been well-characterized. However, it also cited a study of hairless mice that found topical lycopene to reduce the activity of enzymes involved in carcinogenic and acute inflammatory effects caused by UVB irradiation.
In relation, a 2010 patent5 described a topical composition to enhance the healing of burns and UV and radiation erythema. It was based on a water-soluble powder obtained by concentrating mashed or crushed tomatoes under vacuum, then drying them. The final composition included at least one carotenoid with 6.0-20.0% lycopene, along with: 0.1-5.0% caffeic acid; 0.1-5.0% alpha-tocopherol or mixed tocopherols; 0.1-1.0% alcoholic tincture of calendula extract; and 0.1-2.5% tea tree oil.
This composition was found to significantly improve the healing time in first- and second-degree thermal skin burns, sunburn and radiation-induced erythema. Furthermore, it not only reduced pain and inflammation, but prevented blistering, maintained flexibility of the skin, and accelerated the normal healing process.
Another study6 tested the effects of an anti-wrinkle tomato lotion in humans. Twenty healthy female volunteers were recruited, 10 of which used a placebo lotion and 10 who used a tomato-based formula (at a rate of 25 mg of lycopene/100 g lotion). After 42 days of application, the tomato powder formula significantly decreased wrinkles. It also was found to be compatible with skin, causing no sensitivity or reactions. How did it work? The researchers credited antioxidants.
Antioxidants in Action
While a variety of oral and topical therapies is available to treat wrinkles, many of the most successful ones include antioxidants. Antioxidants decrease the number of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in the skin by scavenging them, reducing their levels and preventing them from reaching biological targets. This, in turn, stops oxidative stress and can prevent signs of aging. Examples of antioxidants used in cosmetics include trichloroacetic acid (TCA), α-hydroxy acids (AHAs), β-hydroxy acids, vitamin E, ascorbic acid, phenolic compounds and, of course, lycopene.6
Tomatoes contain the carotenoids lycopene and β-carotene, as well as other natural antioxidants such as vitamins C and E. Lycopene is one of the most potent antioxidants and as we’ve read, it can reduce inflammation as well as defend the skin against UV radiation. This is due in part to its molecular design, which coincidentally is what gives it its red appearance and ability to filter UV light. Lycopene’s sun protection is only equivalent to about an SPF 3, though, which is not adequate sun protection alone.6
Another study7 examined the ability of topical tomato pulp (Solanum lycipersicum) to reduce the negative effects of oxidative stress in skin treated with a cancer-causing immunosuppressant. The tomato pulp reduced lipid degradation and increased antioxidant levels in a dose-dependent manner, inhibiting the formation of skin carcinoma by inducing cellular antioxidant defense systems.
Beyond the Pulp
The benefits of tomatoes don’t stop at the pulp. Last year, researchers in Nigeria studied the effects of Lycopersicon esculentum (tomato) leaf extract on compromised skin. They found that it promoted healing by keeping skin bacteria-free, and by rapidly initiating and accelerating wound contraction by increasing fibroblast production and collagen synthesis.8
The next time your neighbor graciously sends you home with an overloaded bucket of garden tomatoes, think of all the punch packed into that luscious, juicy red flesh. It’s just a squeeze away from super-powered skin.
Tomato in Spa
The spa industry has recognized the power of tomatoes, and a number of skin care manufacturers are utilizing the ingredient in their formulations, mostly for its antioxidant and moisturizing benefits.
Éminence Organic Skin Care includes tomato in two of its products, Tomato Day Cream SPF 16 and Tomato Oil-Control Gel. Both products utilize the antioxidant power of tomato, while the cream uses it to hydrate and the gel utilizes its clarifying power.
Speaking to the power of tomatoes, Boldijarre Koronczay, president of Éminence Organic Skin Care, noted, “Tomatoes also contain an ultra-potent antioxidant called quercetin, which is a super protector that had endless benefits such as reducing inflammation, stimulating the skins immune system and neutralizing free radicals from all sources of stressors. Tomatoes also have a natural salicylic acid content that provides clarifying and pore refining properties to help clear up the appearance blackheads and treat breakouts.” He furthered that tomatoes contain a high content of vitamins A and C, while tomato seeds contain various forms of vitamin E to help combat aging. “Eating tomatoes, watermelon and other fruits that contain high levels of lycopene help to increase the body’s natural internal protection against sunburn. While tomatoes in no way replace traditional sun protection (like sunscreen or wearing a hat), folklore says that farmers who have to work on a hot summer day would crush tomatoes on to their skin to keep from burning,” added Koronczay.
Alchimie Forever uses tomatoes to protect skin from sun damage, i.e., serve antioxidant benefits, in its Antioxidant Skin Repair Gel. On the use of tomatoes, Alchimie Forever CEO Ada Polla added, “Lycopene not only neutralizes oxygen free radicals but is also the most effective carotenoid in neutralizing singlet oxygen 1O2 responsible for wrinkles. Lycopene also reduces lipid peroxidation and prevents UV-induced erythema, which results in more youthful-looking skin.”
The antioxidant activity of tomatoes is also harnessed in ilike organic skin care’s tomato face and body moisturizer for exposed skin. Whole tomato pulp joins other bioflavonoid rich herbal ingredients in the prevention of sun damage, while calming and hydrating the skin. “Numerous research shows that not only can lycopene and other carotenoids increase the skin’s own ability to fight oxidative stress, but lycopene can also absorb UV radiation (when applied topically), enable repair of DNA damage, and reduce inflammation. Lycopene also stimulates production of antioxidant enzymes, inhibits signals that promote tumor progression and promotes programmed death of cancerous cells,” explained Szilvia Hickman, co-owner of Szép Élet.
Shifting to a more moisturizing role, tomatoes are incorporated in their lipid form into PCA Skin and Dermalogica products. Dermalogica utilizes tomato seeds lipids in its Skin Hydrating Masque to resore skin’s protective barrier and enhance moisture levels for smoother skin. “Tomato seed oil helps restore the skin’s protective barrier and increases hydration. Last but not least, it also rejuvenates tired skin, making it beneficial for dry and stressed skin,” noted Tara Damiano, global curriculum developer for Dermalogica and the International Dermal Institute. Tomato is included into PCA Skin’s Peptide Lip Therapy as part of its BMX Complex (which also contains barley) to hydrate the skin. The company’s senior director of product development and communication Alison Adams-Woodford, noted, “A blend of barely and tomato are used to increase the critical lipid content in the skin. This blend also reduces transepidermal water loss and increases skin hydration levels.”
A Skin Superhero
Tomatoes are considered a superfood and for good reason, they provide a host of body and skin benefits. We may not longer be able to pick one out of the garden, but we can still pick one up on the shelf to help deliver hydrated, protected skin all winter long.
- Photoprotective effect of botanicals, cosmeceuticals and active cosmetics, 3rd edn, RK Sivamani, JR Jagdeo, P Elsner and HI Maibach, eds, CRC Press/Taylor-Francis, Oxford, UK (2015)