Diet and Prevention of Photoaging of Skin: Focus on Beta-Carotene and Collagen Supplements

We are entering a new era in dermatology where there is a greater appreciation of the effect of our daily intake of foods and supplements on our skin health (1). This article will focus on diet and the aging that takes place within our skin. Photoaging refers to the development of dryness, pigmentation (brown sun spots), freckling, dullness, lines and wrinkles, loss of skin tone and poor skin texture that occurs as our skin ages.

Our skin experiences 2 types of aging throughout our lifetime:

  1. Intrinsic Skin Aging: this is the process of maturation that is embedded within our DNA and will happen inevitably. There are plenty of behaviors that we can implement to help slow down the intrinsic aging process (such as staying healthy in general, avoiding pro-inflammatory foods, exercising, etc), but to a certain extent, our skin experiences a lifelong process of aging that starts on the day that we are born into the world and progresses until our day of death. Healthy diet can basically “put the breaks on” that intrinsic aging process, slowing it down significantly, so that our skin maintains youthfulness longer.
  2. Extrinsic Skin Aging: These are all of the factors that we encounter in our lives that take a toll on our skin. Sun exposure is one of the major factors that comes to mind, but it is important to also recognize the role of diet (highly inflammatory foods such as dairy and gluten in some individuals), lifestyle (stress, sleep), smoking, medications that age our skin, and other health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, poor dental health that play a role. On the flip side, there are foods and supplements that we can ingest or apply to our skin that help fight the aging process.

As a board-certified dermatologist, I feel that it is important to present the evidence regarding the role of diet in impacting photoaging of the skin in an unbiased manner that is supported by clinical research studies.

In the dermatology world, we continue to study and recognize the role of antioxidants in prevention of photoaging. Antioxidants work to neutralize free radicals and inflammation in our skin which basically leads to destruction and damage of our skin, resulting in the characteristics that I mentioned above (dullness, brown spots, breakdown of collagen leading to lines and wrinkels, etc). Beta-carotene is a vitamin A derivative that is fat-soluble. We typically think of beta-carotene being found in orange foods such as carrots, winter squash, sweet potatoes, and cantaloupe. There is also a high concentration of beta-carotene in leafy greens such as spinach and kale. One study even evaluated the difference of low dose (30 mg) versus high dose (90 mg) beta-carotene daily over a 90 day period in 30 women over 50. The study showed that the group that took the 30-mg dose showed more optimal improvement in lines and wrinkles, elasticity of the skin, and support of collagen compared to the 90-mg dose. Additionally, the study showed that the low dose beta-carotene supplementation provided protection in preventing sunburn(2). I don’t take a beta-carotene supplement, but by regularly including beta-carotene containing foods in my diet (such as those that I mentioned above), my skin has recognized tremendous benefit, and I have been able to truly slow down the aging process and also reverse much of the sun damage that I sustained in my childhood, teens, and twenties.

I am often asked by patients whether or not collagen supplementation is effective in keeping the collagen in our skin healthy. An interesting study by Proksch et al publised in 2014 looked at the role of collagen peptides on skin elasticity in 69 women aged 35-55 years. Collagen hydrolysate 2.5g/daily or 5g/daily both showed significant improvement in skin elasticity at 4 weeks but did not improve hydration or water loss through the skin(3). Another recently published study by Mesinkovska et al (4) reviewed the literature regarding oral collagen supplementation and the effect on skin quality and anti-aging. This review looked at studies examining doses of collagen hydrolysate 2.5g/day to 10g/day to treat pressure ulcers, dry skin, cellulite, and aging skin and found improved wound healing and skin aging. Other studies looking at collagen tripeptide 3g/day for 4-12 weeks showed benefit to skin elasticity, hydration, and collagen density. There are no significant adverse effects reported with oral collagen supplementation.

  1. Soliman YS, Hashim PW, Farberg AS et al. The role of diet in preventing photoaging and treating common skin conditions. Cutis 2019,103(3):153-156.
  2. Cho S, Lee DH, Won CH, et al. Differential effects of low-dose and high-dose beta-carotene supplementation on the signs of photoaging and type I procollagen gene expression in human skin in vivo. Dermatology. 2010,221:160-171.
  3. Proksch E, Segger D, Degwert J, etal. Oral supplementation of specific collagen peptides has beneficial effects of human skin physiology: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. 2014;27:47-55.
  4. Choi FD, Sung CT, Juhasz ML et al. Oral collagen supplementation: a systematic review of dermatological applications. J Drugs Dermatol. 2019,18(1):9-16.

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