Lycopene: What It Is, And Why Your Skin Needs It!

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yes-to-embed The world of skin care can be a confusing one: on one hand, the industry seems to be pushing all kinds of zany ideas (check this out if you don't believe us). On the other hand, the hippy-dippy among us would like us to simply slather our skin in olive oil and call it a day. What's to be done when the chemicals are too harsh and the natural solutions are too, well, weird? We'll tell you what: go snap up a product containing lycopene, an all-natural ingredient that's anything but crunchy.

So, what the heck is lycopene? According to Stafford R. Broumand, M.D., F.A.C.S.: "Lycopene belongs to the class of compounds called carotenoids — the red pigment that provides color to plants." The first product to come to your mind when considering red pigment might be tomatoes, but according to Dr. Paul Jarrod Frank, papaya, guava, mangoes, pink grapefruit and rose hips are all rich in the compound.

One of our favorite lycopene-rich skin care lines is, of course, Yes To Tomatoes, which uses the compound in its acne-fighting products. "Lycopene is present in fruits and vegetables to help prevent damage caused by light," says Amy Hart, product development manager for Yes To. "It is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory that helps protect skin from environmental agents that can contribute to clogged pores and breakouts."

Oily and combination skin see big benefits, but our interview subjects insist that there aren't many skin types that won't benefit from the ingredient. Dr. Frank recommends lycopene for sun damage and excess pigmentation, or melasma, for its gentle lightening effects. Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi, a dermatologist in Washington, DC, loves it for its anti-aging properties (it prevents the breakdown of collagen, one of the causes of wrinkles). Finally, Dr. Broumand states that even if you have extremely sensitive skin, you can use lycopene-rich products without making yourself, well, red in the face: "Lycopene has been shown to be safe on the skin and generally does not cause irritation."

So yes, you will definitely be wanting to slather on some lycopene-rich products, especially in preparation for spring (or if you're headed to a sunny locale this winter). Plus, according to Dr. Broumand, you might want to load up on the spaghetti sauce as well: "I once read that a study published in the British Society for Investigative Dermatology where researchers assigned participants to a diet high in lycopene for 3 months. A different group ate a regular diet to serve as a control group. In the end, the group that ate a lycopene-rich diet enjoyed 33% greater protection against the sun’s damaging rays. That’s the equivalent of a SPF of 1.3!"

Its sun-defeating powers, plus its ability to boost immune systems and lower cancer risks shows that lycopene may just be the biggest badass in the realm of natural skin care. That's a pretty strong argument for having spaghetti (or a Bloody Mary) this weekend, no?

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Yes To Tomatoes Acne Control Gel Cleanser, $9.97, available at Walmart.