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Beta-carotene for skin: A powerful antioxidant

Carotenoids give fruits and vegetables their vibrant colors, and they can also benefit your skin.

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Curology Team
Dec 16, 2022 · 6 min read

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Beta Carotene Skincare
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.
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  3. > Beta-carotene for skin: A powerful antioxidant

Chances are you’ve heard of beta-carotene, a pigment that gives fruits and veggies like carrots, tomatoes, broccoli, beets, and berries their vibrant color. But there’s more to beta-carotene than meets the eye. When consumed orally, it acts as an antioxidant that the body converts into vitamin A, which is key for your skin’s health. Here we’ll explain what experts have to say about the potential benefits of beta-carotene in skincare and how to work this ingredient into your routine, whether that means eating foods rich in it or applying it topically.

Types of carotenoids

Beta-carotene is a type of carotenoid, an essential component of the skin’s antioxidant protective system.¹ Generally speaking, two types of carotenoids exist: fat-soluble and water-soluble. Provitamin Acarotenoids, or fat-soluble carotenoids, can be converted by the body into retinol² or vitamin A. These types of carotenoids include the following: 

  • Alpha-carotene: The second most abundant form of carotene, alpha-carotene is found in yellow-orange vegetables like pumpkin, squash, and sweet potato. It’s also in green vegetables like green peas, collared greens, and tomatoes. 

  • Beta-carotene: Beta-carotene is the colorful pigment found in orange, yellow, and red fruits and vegetables. It’s found in carrots, mangoes, cantaloupe, apricots, kale, cilantro, and many other fruits and vegetables. 

  • Beta-cryptoxanthin: Beta-cryptoxanthin is another carotenoid that’s found in fruit and also in human blood and tissues. Foods that are rich in beta-cryptoxanthin include tangerines, persimmons, and oranges. A precursor of vitamin A, beta-cryptoxanthin has several functions within the human body, including antioxidant defense and cell-to-cell communication.³

Non provitamin A carotenoids cannot be converted into vitamin A, but they help the body in other ways: 

  • Lutein: Lutein is a carotenoid with reported anti-inflammatory properties. Studies show that it has benefits for the body, especially regarding eye health. It’s known to improve or even prevent age-related eye disease, which is a leading cause of blindness and vision impairment.⁴ 

  • Zeaxanthin: This carotenoid accumulated in your eye.⁵ It has potent antioxidant properties and is linked to several health benefits, including reducing the risk of age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, and cataracts, though additional studies are needed.⁶ 

  • Lycopene: Lycopene is a carotenoid with antioxidant properties that gives red and pink fruits, like pink grapefruit and watermelon, their gorgeous colors. It’s been linked to health benefits that include sun protection⁷ (but not enough for you to skip your daily SPF).

fresh sliced fruit

Possible beta-carotene benefits

Let’s get back to beta-carotene! When eaten or applied topically, beta-carotene gets stored in our bodies, providing several potential benefits for the skin, body, and hair. In addition to being found in carrots and other orange and yellow vegetables, beta-carotene is used as an ingredient in many different cosmetic, skincare, and hair care products, like sunscreen, moisturizers, lipsticks, soaps, self-tanners, toners, cleansing products, and more. 

Beta-carotene offers the following potential benefits for the skin: 

  • It may have photoprotective properties: In some studies, supplementation with carotenoids such as beta-carotene moderately reduced UV erythema,⁸ and when combined with other sunscreen ingredients, it may enhance overall skin protection. Nevertheless, using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30 daily is your best defense against the sun. Nothing should ever replace that.

  • It may have anti-aging properties: When applied topically, beta-carotene may deliver an increase of epidermal retinyl esters, meaning that it’s possibly a precursor of epidermal vitamin A.⁹ This may lead to some of the same great benefits that can result from using retinoid products, including the reduced appearance of lines and wrinkles from skin aging. When it comes to beta-carotene for skin brightening, its effectiveness hasn’t been proven. 

  • It may strengthen hair: Beta-carotene in hair products may help strengthen damaged hair and repair split ends.¹⁰ However, too much vitamin A can have the opposite effect - damaging hair and causing hair loss.¹¹ Most people get adequate vitamin A from a healthy diet so we recommend speaking with your doctor before adding in any vitamin A supplements.

Beta-carotene uses in skincare

Research on the effects of topical application of beta-carotene is still limited, but here’s what experts know so far: Beta-carotene is most likely fine to use on all skin types, but the jury’s still out regarding whether it’s better to apply it in the morning or at night—or both. Using it in the morning may help protect your skin from UV damage, while using it at night may help rejuvenate and refresh your skin. 

Here’s how to topically apply beta-carotene: 

  1. Wash your face with a cleanser designed for your skin type.

  2. Apply a few drops of a beta-carotene product, such as an oil or cream, to your face and massage it gently and thoroughly. 

  3. Apply a lightweight moisturizer on top to lock the beta-carotene product in. 

Potential beta-carotene side effects 

Combining beta-carotene with other vitamin A derivatives like retinol is not recommended, as this may lead to irritation. However, beta-carotene can likely be safely combined with other types of skincare ingredients.

Potential side effects associated with oral and topical beta-carotene may include: 

  • Discoloration: Overeating foods with high levels of beta-carotene (such as carrots) may lead to carotenemia (yellowing of the skin).¹² 

  • Irritation: Again, combining beta-carotene with other topical products (like retinoids) may irritate sensitive skin.

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FAQs

Possible beta-carotene benefits?

Beta-carotene offers the following potential benefits for the skin: 

  • It may have photoprotective properties: In some studies, supplementation with carotenoids such as beta-carotene moderately reduced UV erythema, and when combined with other sunscreen ingredients, it may enhance overall skin protection.

  • It may have anti-aging properties: When applied topically, beta-carotene may deliver an increase of epidermal retinyl esters, meaning that it’s possibly a precursor of epidermal vitamin A.

  • It may strengthen hair: Beta-carotene in hair products may help strengthen damaged hair and repair split ends.

Beta-carotene uses in skincare?

Beta-carotene is most likely fine to use on all skin types, but the jury’s still out regarding whether it’s better to apply it in the morning or at night—or both. Using it in the morning may help protect your skin from UV damage, while using it at night may help rejuvenate and refresh your skin. 

Here’s how to topically apply beta-carotene: 

  1. Wash your face with a cleanser designed for your skin type.

  2. Apply a few drops of a beta-carotene product, such as an oil or cream, to your face and massage it gently and thoroughly. 

  3. Apply a lightweight moisturizer on top to lock the beta-carotene product in.

Potential beta-carotene side effects?

Potential side effects associated with oral and topical beta-carotene may include: 

  • Discoloration: Overeating foods with high levels of beta-carotene (such as carrots) may lead to carotenemia (yellowing of the skin). 

  • Irritation: Again, combining beta-carotene with other topical products (like retinoids) may irritate sensitive skin.

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1. Darvin ME, Sterry W, Lademann J, Vergou T. The Role of Carotenoids in Human Skin. Molecules. (2011).

  2. Higdon, J., Carotenoids. Linus Pauling Institute. (2004).

  3. Burri, BJ., Beta-cryptoxanthin as a source of vitamin A. J Sci Food Agric. (2015).

  4. Buscemi S, Corleo D, Di Pace F, Petroni ML, Satriano A, Marchesini G. The Effect of Lutein on Eye and Extra-Eye Health. Nutrients. (2018).

  5. Eisenhauer B, Natoli S, Liew G, Flood VM. Lutein and Zeaxanthin-Food Sources, Bioavailability  and Dietary Variety in Age-Related Macular  Degeneration Protection. Nutrients. (2017).

  6. Mares J. Lutein and Zeaxanthin Isomers in Eye Health and Disease. Annu Rev Nutr. (2016).

  7. Baswan, S. M., et al. Role of ingestible carotenoids in skin protection: A review of clinical evidence. Photodermatology, photoimmunology & photomedicine. (2021).

  8. Lee, J., et al. Carotenoid supplementation reduces erythema in human skin after simulated solar radiation exposure. Proceedings of the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine. Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine. (2000).

  9. Antille C, Tran C, Sorg O, Saurat JH. Topical beta-carotene is converted to retinyl esters in human skin ex vivo and mouse skin in vivo. Exp Dermatol. (2004).

  10. VanBuren, C. A., & Everts, H. B. Vitamin A in Skin and Hair: An Update. Nutrients. (2022).

  11. Almohanna, H. M., et al. The Role of Vitamins and Minerals in Hair Loss: A Review. Dermatology and therapy. (2019).

  12. Al Nasser, Y., et al. Carotenemia. StatPearls. (2022 July 24).

Kristen Jokela is a certified Family Nurse Practitioner at Curology. She obtained her Master of Science in Nursing at the University of South Florida in Tampa, FL.

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• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Kristen Jokela, NP-C

Kristen Jokela, NP-C

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