UV light, beta-carotene and human skin--beneficial and potentially harmful effects

Arch Biochem Biophys. 2001 May 1;389(1):1-6. doi: 10.1006/abbi.2001.2313.


Solar radiation is one of the most important environmental stress agents for human skin, causing sunburn, premature skin aging, and skin cancer. Beta-carotene is discussed to protect against photooxidative stress and thus prevent skin damage. Though beta-carotene has been successfully used against photosensitivity in patients with erythropoietic protoporphyria, its beneficial potential in normal skin is still uncertain. A number of experimental studies indicate protective effects of beta-carotene against acute and chronic manifestations of skin photodamage. However, most clinical studies have failed to convincingly demonstrate its beneficial effects so far. Nevertheless, intake of oral beta-carotene supplements before sun exposure has been recommended on a population-wide basis. Recent studies on skin cells in culture have revealed that beta-carotene acts not only as an antioxidant but also has unexpected prooxidant properties. At present, there is an ongoing debate on the protective or potentially harmful role of beta-carotene in human skin.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Fibroblasts / drug effects
  • Fibroblasts / metabolism
  • Fibroblasts / radiation effects
  • Heme Oxygenase (Decyclizing) / metabolism
  • Heme Oxygenase-1
  • Humans
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Oxidative Stress / drug effects
  • Oxidative Stress / radiation effects
  • Risk Assessment
  • Skin / drug effects*
  • Skin / metabolism
  • Skin / radiation effects*
  • Skin Aging / drug effects
  • Ultraviolet Rays / adverse effects*
  • beta Carotene / metabolism
  • beta Carotene / pharmacology*


  • Membrane Proteins
  • beta Carotene
  • HMOX1 protein, human
  • Heme Oxygenase (Decyclizing)
  • Heme Oxygenase-1