Colorful Antioxidants Crucial in Cosmeceuticals


SAO PAULO, Brazil—When talking about color and cosmetics, most think of eye shadows, lipsticks and blushes; but beauty’s color palette is extending from shelf to plate thanks to nutricosmetics. Colorful fruits and vegetables are rich with two important classes of antioxidants—carotenoids (beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, zeaxanthi and astaxanthin) and polyphenols (anthocyanidins, catechins, flavonoids, tannins and procyanidins), according to a new study published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology (2012;11(1): 51–54). In fact, Packaged Facts recently slated antioxidants as the next meta-trend, reporting 44 percent of women buy skin care or cosmetic products that promote free radical damage.

“The market for cosmeceuticals continues with significant annual growth, but today consumers are more aware of nutritional products that contribute to both skin health and disease prevention," the researchers said. “In the last 10 years, pharmacists, chemists, nutritionists and physicians have been working together to develop new nutritional applications to satisfy people’s needs and demands. As a recent result of convergence phenomenon between cosmetics and food industries, nutricosmetics is a blurry area unfamiliar to many consumers and sometimes even to foods and cosmetics experts.

What’s nutricosmetics major claim to skin health? Anti-aging, i.e., reducing wrinkles by fighting free radicals generated by solar radiation. This is where antioxidants come in, as they represent the most crucial ingredients. 


Carotenoids are a group of lipophilic molecules including the major components lycopene, lutein,  zeaxanthin and beta-carotene, a provitamin A that accumulates in the skin providing a “golden-yellow" color. Carotenoids present in the skin have an important role in photo-protection against UV radiation. As a nutricosmetic ingredient, clinical studies have been conducted to assess their photo-protective capacity responsible for the prevention of premature skin aging. In 1996, one of the first studies about the photoprotection function of beta-carotene was published (Eur J Dermatol. 1996;6(3):219-38); and later in 2001, researchers  examined the beneficial effects of the ingestion of a tomato paste 40 mg/d (lycopene 16 mg), showing the significant reduction in erythema induced by UV light (J Nutr. 2001;131(5):1449-51).

Recently, a study compared the cosmetic effects of three groups of treatments with the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin: combined oral and topical; topical application; oral supplementation (Skin Pharmacol Physiol. 2007;20(4):199-210). According to results, all treatment groups showed a significant enhancement of elasticity of skin and the combined treatment showed a cutaneous hydration more pronounced compared to isolated treatments. The combined oral and topical administration also provided the highest degree of antioxidant protection, demonstrating a synergistic effect of oral and topical approaches.

The Brazilian researchers said carotenoids act as ROS acceptors and scavengers of peroxyl radicals, and consequently, they are able to interrupt the sequence of reactions that leads to damage in lipophilic compartments.


Polyphenols are among the most abundant antioxidants in the human diet and are present in fruits, vegetables, cereals, olive oil, dried vegetables, chocolate, and beverages such as coffee, tea and wine. The most popular polyphenols are the flavonoids, a family composed by flavones, flavonols and anthocyanins, among others. Acting as cosmeceuticals, there are an increasing number of studies evaluating the antioxidant effects of herbal extracts incorporated in topical creams and lotions. Some phenolic compounds, such as epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) from green tea, have been shown to protect against UV-induced DNA damage and immune suppression, allowing this component to be incorporated in conventional sunscreen formulations to boost the photoprotection provided by the UV filters (J Investig Dermatol Symp Proc. 2009;14(1):56-9).

Acting as nutricosmetics, there are studies proving the effects of the extract of Pinus pinaster (rich in catechin, epicatechin, caffeic and ferulic acids, and procyanidins; as Pycnogenol®) on reduction of melasma (Phyto Res. 2002;16(6):567-71) and UV-induced damage (Free Radic Biol Med 2001; 30(2): 154–60).  Administrated orally, the grape seed extract (rich in procyanidins) was shown to reduce the hyperpigmentation in women with melasma (Phytother Res. 2004;18(11):895–9).

Cocoa flavonols also demonstrated photoprotective effects when orally administered, including a decrease in skin roughness and scaling in the high-flavanol cocoa group (JNutr 2006;13(6):1565–9).

See, we told you in our Top 10 Trends report—nutricosmetics are trending; and the efficacious evidence in their defense is mounting.