How Does Beta-Carotene Benefit Your Skin?
Glowing skin is healthy skin. Ask any woman who swears by a pan of highlighter for luminosity. Sadly, putting on highlighter isn’t always the best option.
While most of us aren’t naturally blessed with skin that feels like rose petals in the morning, we can always turn to skincare products that help us achieve that glow.
For skin that looks lit from within, we need to look beyond serums and masks. Foods rich in antioxidants are your best bet for that youthful radiance that’s high up on our wish list.
Certain vitamins found in fruits and vegetables are found to be effective in clearing up acne and preventing premature skin aging.
Case in point: Beta-carotene.
What the Fuss About Beta-Carotene?
Beta-carotene is a carotenoid or pigment that is found in most plants. If the name is any indication, beta-carotene is found in carrots. It is the pigment responsible for the bright orange color of some fruits and vegetables.
When we eat produce that contains beta-carotene, two things can happen:
- Beta-carotene may be converted into vitamin A or retinol, which is needed for healthy eyesight and smooth skin; or
- It turns into an antioxidant that fights harmful free radicals in the body.
In addition to making the skin look radiant, beta-carotene also helps in the following areas:
- Cognitive function – Long-term consumption of foods rich in beta-carotene slows down cognitive degeneration. Oxidative stress is one of the factors that contribute to dementia. Beta-carotene as an antioxidant is an effective preventive measure for such conditions. However, there are no significant effects found in short-term consumption of beta-carotene.
- Healthy vision – As we grow older, our vision turns weaker. Macular degeneration is a common eye problem that the elderly face. This condition could lead to blindness when not treated early. Beta-carotene helps maintain healthy vision and prevents diseases that affect the eye.
- Cancer prevention – As an antioxidant, beta-carotene is effective in eliminating free radicals from the body. These free radicals that attack healthy cells in the body is one of the factors that cause cancer.
Foods High in Beta-Carotene
Free radicals are responsible for most of the skin problems that we have. They cause premature skin aging and acne and are associated with numerous diseases.
Because of this, it’s a good idea to incorporate foods that are rich in beta-carotene into our diets. Since beta-carotene is found only in plants, including these foods to your diet will help bring out the dewy, youthful glow that we love:
Did you know that a small raw carrot contains 4,142 micrograms of beta-carotene? This is why carrots are one of the best sources for this carotenoid. In addition to antioxidants, carrots also contain a good amount of fiber, potassium, and vitamins C and K. All these vitamins and nutrients help remove excess free radicals in the body and that leads to healthier-looking skin.
But there’s another reason why carrots are special. In addition to beta-carotene, carrots contain another form of carotenoid. Alpha-carotene converts into vitamin A. The two carotenoids work together in boosting the immune system, protecting the eyesight, and preventing premature aging.
According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, beta-carotene may help protect the skin from sunlight. When the skin is protected from the harmful UV rays, the lower your chances are of getting fine lines and wrinkles. But don’t rely on the dependable old carrot to do all the work for you: you still need SPF to protect your skin from damage.
In Western countries, the gac fruit (Momordica cochinchinensis) is barely heard of. But this tropical fruit, which is commonly found in Asia and Australia, has the highest concentration of beta-carotene among all fruits and vegetables. Yes, even higher than carrots.
It sounds unbelievable considering that this fruit rarely makes it to the list of super foods, but the gac fruit has 54 times more beta-carotene than carrots and 200 times more lycopene than tomatoes. In Vietnam, they mix the fruit pulp with glutinous rice to create red sticky rice, which the people eat to help prevent vitamin A deficiencies. One study shows that the gac fruit also helps inhibit tumor growth among mice.
Because it’s low in sugar and high in nutrients, the gac fruit is considered Paleo. Since the fruit lacks sweetness, its juice is usually mixed with other fruit juices. It’s one of the antioxidant-rich foods that should be included in our diets. But since they are harvested only twice a year, you can buy gac juice instead of the real fruit.
The bright orange color of pumpkins is a dead giveaway to its beta-carotene content. Like carrots, this vegetable is loaded with carotenoid pigments that protect the eyes and skin from damage. Aside from beta-carotene, pumpkins also contain fiber, iron, riboflavin, and vitamin C – all the good stuff that keeps the immune system and the skin happy.
Similar to tomatoes with their lycopene content, pumpkins contain more beta-carotene when they are cooked. But between a cooked variety and a canned one, the latter wins in terms of carotenoid content. A cup of cooked pumpkin (mashed) contains 0.5 milligrams of beta-carotene, while canned pumpkins have about 17 milligrams. This is perhaps because canned pumpkins contain less water content than its cooked counterpart.
They may not be orange like the other produce in this list, but spinach packs a lot of beta-carotene. Strange, right? The yellow and orange pigments in spinach and other leafy greens are masked by the green in chlorophyll.
So how much beta-carotene do spinach contain? And do they come at par with the beta-carotene found in carrots?
A 100-gram serving of raw spinach contains 5600 micrograms of beta-carotene, which is about 70% of the beta-carotene content of raw carrots. When cooked, spinach possesses even more beta-carotene at 6300 micrograms per 100-gram serving.
They don’t really come from the family of potatoes (nightshade family), but sweet potatoes are delicious and perhaps more nutritious than their namesake. These starchy root crops come in different color varieties (yellow, white, purple, and pink). And as you guessed it—the yellow and the orange ones contain the most beta-carotene.
How much difference is there in terms of beta-carotene content? A team of researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) studied the orange-fleshed variety against carrots. They found out that the orange variety of sweet potatoes have about 11.8 to 29.8 micrograms of beta-carotene per 100-gram serving.
That’s great news to all sweet potato lovers. But like in other carotenoid-rich foods, the beta-carotene content of sweet potatoes differ according to how they are cooked. Boiled sweet potatoes have less beta-carotene than fried ones. It’s because beta-carotene is fat soluble. Sweet potatoes need to be fried in fats to release beta-carotene. That’s one point to consider when preparing sweet potatoes for your meals.
Bananas are fruits that we can enjoy all year long. They are sweet and creamy, and most importantly, they contain beta-carotene that helps promote good skin and overall health. In addition to beta-carotene, bananas are also rich in potassium, a mineral that helps regulate blood pressure.
Bananas are versatile fruits that you can incorporate in your daily diet. And it’s very easy to do so because bananas are tasty. But what type of bananas should you get?
It turns out that Cavendish bananas don’t have as much carotenoids as the other cultivars. Fei bananas have high levels of Provitamin A carotenoids (pVACs). Commonly grown in Micronesia, Fei bananas may contain up to 6,360 micrograms of beta-carotene per 100 grams.
What Happens When You Consume Too Much Beta-Carotene?
Well, you are what you eat. So if you gobble up plenty of carrots and pumpkins, your skin will turn orange, short of becoming an Oompa Loompa.
Why does this happen?
Once beta-carotene enters the bloodstream, it is deposited under the skin, giving it an odd orange tint. Sometimes, beta-carotene is excreted in sweat, which makes sweaty parts of the body look more orange. This includes the palms and soles of the feet.
But don’t worry. That golden glow has some pretty good health benefits:
The body turns some of the beta-carotene into vitamin A or retinol. This helps strengthen the immune system, maintain healthy eyesight, and purify the skin.
Of course, you don’t want to walk around looking like a pumpkin in heels. This is why it’s helpful to know how much is “safe” to consume.
The number varies from one individual to another because each person’s metabolism is different. But a good aim is about six to eight milligrams of beta-carotene per day. Carotenemia happens when you consume as close to 20 milligrams per day or about three large carrots.
Beta-Carotene in Skin Care
Beta-carotene is often labeled as Vitamin A or provitamin A in skincare and hair care products. It is mostly found in tanning lotions, moisturizers, lotions, makeup, and hair products.
In skincare, beta-carotene is used for its antioxidant content to prevent sun damage to the skin and to even skin tone. The antioxidant properties of topical beta-carotene help speed up cell turnover, making the skin look supple and radiant.
Tanning and Sun Damage
Most suntan lotions contain beta-carotene for its tinting abilities and protection against sunburn. Some people consider it to be a natural sunscreen and would go under the sun without topical protection.
But how effective is beta-carotene in preventing sun damage, and more importantly, in stopping skin cancer from ever happening?
Studies show different results in terms of sun protection:
- One study shows that beta-carotene offers protection against sunburn when taken as an oral supplement. In order for this to happen, a person needs to take 10 weeks of supplementation.
- In another study, researchers found that beta-carotene supplements did not reduce incidents of skin cancer.
The thing with beta-carotene supplements is that their effectiveness builds over time unlike the instant result we get from applying sunscreen.
That said, it’s better to take beta-carotene from foods instead of supplements. At least until there is sufficient evidence in the effectiveness of the carotenoid when taken in the form of capsules or tablets.
What About Beta-Carotene Supplements?
Antioxidant supplements are popular for their promise of eradicating free radicals in the body. However, there is not enough evidence that oral supplements have better beta-carotene content than the food themselves.
Numerous health authorities including the American Cancer Society and American Institute for Cancer Research firmly believe that beta-carotene is best taken from foods rather than supplements. At least until there’s enough to show that supplements have the same benefits.
And if you are a smoker, it is not advisable to take these supplements as they may pose a health risk.
If you’d like to have glowing skin and be healthy all over, it’s best to turn to whole foods to get the vitamins and nutrients that our body needs.
While some skincare products may contain beta-carotene and other forms of antioxidants, nothing trumps healthy eating when it comes to achieving healthy skin.