Disease Proof

Tomatoes protect skin against sun damage

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S., affecting one out of every five Americans, and its incidence is rising. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is responsible for the development of most skin cancers and also skin aging. [1]

Ultraviolet radiation from the sun exerts these aging and carcinogenic effects on the skin via oxidative stress, inflammation, and damage to DNA. As such, there has been much interest in the scientific community in using antioxidants from plant foods to protect against this damage. Photoprotection has been previously demonstrated in animal studies by multiple antioxidant supplements, including green tea catechins, proanthocyanadins, resveratrol, and silymarin. In addition to their antioxidant effects, these substances can also absorb UV radiation (when applied topically), enable DNA damage repair, and reduce inflammation. [2]

Lycopene, well-known for its prostate cancer-protective effects, is a carotenoid antioxidant present in red and pink fruits such as tomato, grapefruit, and papaya. It is especially concentrated in cooked tomato products like tomato paste. Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant that in vitro has been shown to prevent or repair damage to DNA that potentially leads to cancer development. Lycopene also stimulates production of antioxidant enzymes, inhibits signals that promote tumor progression, and promotes programmed death of cancerous cells. [3]

Researchers tested whether the antioxidant actions of lycopene in tomato paste could lessen the skin-damaging effects of UV radiation in human subjects. A group of healthy women consumed tomato paste daily for twelve weeks, and their skin’s reddening response to UV light was measured at the beginning and end of the study. After twelve weeks of tomato supplementation, the skin’s resistance to UV-induced reddening was enhanced. The tomato paste supplementation also resulted in reduced mitochondrial DNA damage and reduced activity of an enzyme that degrades the skin’s extracellular proteins, a process that contributes to skin aging. These results suggest that regular tomato consumption can help to reduce the skin-damaging effects of the sun. [4]

Tomatoes are rich not only in lycopene but in thousands of other protective compounds, both discovered and undiscovered, that likely have powerful heart disease- and cancer-preventive effects. Be sure to eat both fresh, raw tomatoes and cooked tomatoes to get the full spectrum of tomatoes’ phytochemicals.



1. Skin Cancer Foundation: Skin Cancer Facts. October 14, 2010]; Available from: http://www.skincancer.org/Skin-Cancer-Facts/.
2. Nichols, J.A. and S.K. Katiyar, Skin photoprotection by natural polyphenols: anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and DNA repair mechanisms. Arch Dermatol Res, 2010. 302(2): p. 71-83.
3. van Breemen, R.B. and N. Pajkovic, Multitargeted therapy of cancer by lycopene. Cancer Lett, 2008. 269(2): p. 339-51.
4. Rizwan, M., et al., Tomato paste rich in lycopene protects against cutaneous photodamage in humans in vivo. Br J Dermatol, 2010.


Trackbacks (0) Links to blogs that reference this article Trackback URL
Comments (6) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Steve - October 18, 2010 5:45 PM


Are we saying that any and all unprotected sun exposure is dangerous?

I don't believe it. Over exposure is dangerous. The safe amount of course will vary from one individual to another depending on their skin type etc. But if you only stay in the sun for half the time it would take for your skin to become pink the next day as mentioned in the referred to study, then you will get natural vitamin D in the process without any danger of damaging your skin.

Furthermore IF the same women exposed themselves to the sun 12 weeks later after already having allowed their skin to become pink it would seem to me that they would have built up the melatonin levels in their skin and that in itself would have allowed them to stay in the sun longer without reddening their skin. How can they say conclusively that it was the tomato paste?

Just as we need a little fat in our diet we also need a little sunshine. Too much fat is not healthy and too much sunshine is damaging as well.

There is no data to suggest that SENSIBLE sun exposure increases the risk on nonmelanoma skin cancer and there is no scientific evidence that regular, MODERATE sun exposure causes melanoma. These are not my words but those of Michael F. Holick, Ph D, MD who has authored more than 300 peer-reviewed research articles and who has studied & researched the effects of vitamin D on health for over 30 years, including the taking of vitamin D supplements and exposure to sunlight and the use of UV lamps. Somehow I think he knows what he is talking about. The information is from his latest book, "The Vitamin D Solution, A 3-Step Strategy To Cure Our Most Common Health Problem"

Of course sensible sun exposure along with a sensible nutritarian diet gives everyone the ultimate benefit of both worlds: naturally produced vitamin D along with the protective substances in healthy foods. And just as there may be untold nutrient benefits from substances in foods that are not yet discovered the same may be true of the natural benefits of sun exposure, after all you can't overdose on vitamin D from the sun but you can from supplements.

Paul - October 19, 2010 10:08 AM


Are we saying that any and all unprotected sun exposure is dangerous?"

Read Deana's post a couple of times. I don't think she ever said that Steve. Ergo, you are knocking down a strawman.

When I was in law school, we used to say that the "REASONABLE MAN" (adding caps doesn't do anything to a post but annoy people)standard was kind of a meaningless, weasel word. Sounds comfortable, but doesn't really do much until somebody tells you what "reasonable" is. It's the same with "sensible" and "moderate".

Reviewing research over 30 years is great. The decay from ozone depleting substances means that the risk to humans from sun exposure may not be the same when some of those studies was done. In short, Steve, proceed at your own risk.


Deana Ferreri, Ph.D. - October 19, 2010 12:02 PM

To address the question of whether there is any safe level of unprotected sun exposure to obtain healthy vitamin D levels, see Dr. Fuhrman's recent post:

"...according to the American Academy of Dermatology there is no safe amount of unprotected UV exposure that can allow for sufficient vitamin D production without increasing the risk of skin cancer."


Steve - October 19, 2010 11:16 PM

I really couldn't care less what the American Academy of Dermatology has to say.

StephenMarkTurner - October 20, 2010 2:27 PM

Dr Holick's book seemed reasonable to me, but if I remember correctly, his suggestions for me were only for a few minutes daily exposure (less than ten I am pretty sure). I am quite fair skin (English born), and live around the Great Lakes (43rd parallel) in Canada.

A note for vanity's sake. At 54 I can sure tell which parts of my body got a lot of sun, and it is not very nice. Even the inside to the outside of my arms is a huge difference. Thicker, freckly, scaly, 'salt n pepper' patches.

Regards, Steve

Jen - March 24, 2011 11:54 PM

The sun isn't the only thing that causes melanoma, cellular and DNA damage. Cosmetic lasers are 1000x stronger than the sun and will cause unrepairable, extensive damage to your skin as well as numerous health problems which cannot be 'fixed'.

Dr. Fuhrman's Executive Offices
4 Walter E. Foran Blvd.
Suite 408
Flemington, NJ 08822