Looking for really healthy, beautiful skin? You might want to eat more marinara sauce.
It sounds like a joke, but it turns out the classic combo of olive oil and tomatoes is filled with goodies that may give your skin an antioxidant boost to calm inflammation, reduce sun damage, and fight back against fine lines.
Sadly, this doesn’t mean we get to binge on pizza or penne in the name of glowing skin. At this point, scientists haven’t found any proven skin benefits of mozzarella cheese and wheat flour (yes, it makes me sad too). But more and more dermatologists are telling people to get on the tomato train because of the many benefits of something called lycopene — the nutrient your skin never even knew it needed.
To find out more about the connection between tasty tomatoes and super skin, I spoke to dermatologists to get the straight scoop on lycopene.
Lycopene is a red nutrient in the carotenoids family that gives tomatoes, watermelons, and guavas their signature hue. Though it’s found naturally in a few red and pink fruits and vegetables, tomatoes have the most lycopene by far. As the tomato ripens, its lycopene content gets higher and higher.
So why are these ripe, red tomatoes so good for us? “Lycopene is a great food-derived antioxidant with many skin benefits that span the entire skin wellness spectrum,” says Karin Hermoni, PhD, head of science & nutrition at Lycored. “The nutrient not only quenches free radicals but also induces the body’s own protection mechanism against oxidative stress and inflammation, enhancing skin resilience and allowing skin cells to better cope with the environment.”
In simpler terms: When you have too many free radicals, it stresses the body. Antioxidants render the free radicals harmless, helping reduce stress, inflammation, and signs of aging.
Lycopene is an especially strong antioxidant, so it can help your overall health along with the appearance of your skin. Plus, antioxidants help reverse signs of aging, which means plumper skin and reduced fine lines. All in all, tomatoes help you look a little younger and feel a little better.
“Antioxidants help prevent and undo damage to collagen in the skin. Lycopene specifically helps prevent skin discoloration, texture changes, and fine lines and wrinkles,” says dermatologist Tsippora Shainhouse of Stay Skin Safe.
Lycopene can’t turn back the clock, but by increasing your lycopene intake, you can boost the health of the collagen in your skin and stop some of the fine lines before they start.
Lycopene can benefit any skin type, but works especially well for sensitive and aging skin. “Tomatoes act as an astringent and can reduce the appearance of large pores,” says Shainhouse. Also, the antioxidant calms the body’s inflammatory process, reducing redness and irritation, according to Hermoni. Add the anti-aging properties and lycopene has something to offer for all kinds of skin.
But what really sets lycopene apart from all the other antioxidants is its potential effect on sun damage. A study in the British Journal of Dermatology found that lycopene supplements helped protect the skin from UV rays.
The small study found that participants who took extra lycopene had significantly less sun damage compared to the placebo group. That doesn’t mean you can chomp on a tomato and forgo the sunscreen. “The use of sunscreen and tomato carotenoids may increase skin resilience and support a healthy relationship with the sun,” says Hermoni.
Though you can get more lycopene through your diet, will that really help your skin? Hermoni says yes! For best results, she suggests using both topical and dietary treatments. That might mean adding a lycopene-rich serum or a mask to your skin care routine. But the dietary piece of the puzzle is still the most important.
“It was shown that carotenoids from ingestible products contribute more to the accumulation of carotenoids in the skin, compared to the topical,” says Hermoni. “So, if you are going to choose only one, opt for a healthy diet over a carotenoid mask.”
That said, a lycopene topical treatment won’t hurt, so if you’re in the mood to try a different ingredient in your serums or toners, give a tomato-based product a try.
“It’s important to note that lycopene works best for skin when it can team up with other tomato phytonutrients. Eating the whole tomato or supplementing with tomato-based products will provide better nourishment to our body and skin compared to supplementing with lycopene alone,” says Hermoni. Since lycopene is oil-soluble, she suggests cooking tomatoes in olive oil for optimal absorption. So yep, marinara sauce is good for your skin.
There are lots of antioxidants and vitamins out there that can help your skin, but lycopene is an exceptionally easy ingredient to add to your diet — and skin care routine. A few extra bowls of tomato soup won’t transform your skin, but regular added lycopene seems to show real promise for preventing damage and protecting your skin from the sun.
Beyond helping your skin, lycopene helps reduce stress and inflammation in the entire body, and you can get the benefits with only the additional cost of a few ripe tomatoes. “Lycopene lays a foundation for different systems in our body to function in an optimal manner. This includes healthy blood flow, metabolism, and more,” says Hermoni. “Today we know that health is the foundation on which beauty can thrive. When our entire body is balanced and well, this is reflected on the outside.”
With a few extra tomatoes a week, you could reap double benefits: a bit more balance within plus glow-worthy skin.
For more great fitness tips, healthy recipes, and inspiration, check out our friends at Greatist.