Dietary carotenoids contribute to normal human skin color and UV photosensitivity

J Nutr. 2002 Mar;132(3):399-403. doi: 10.1093/jn/132.3.399.


The aim of the current study was to determine whether dietary carotenoids influence skin pigmentation and UV photosensitivity in a healthy unsupplemented panel (n = 22) of Caucasian (skin Type II) subjects. Skin spectrophotometric and tristimulus (L*a*b*) CR200 chromameter readings were made at various body sites to objectively measure skin carotenoid levels and skin color, respectively. The minimal erythemal dose (MED) was also measured to determine the intrinsic UV photosensitivity of the skin. We found that tristimulus b* values (but not L* and a* values) were consistently and closely correlated with skin carotenoid levels at a number of body sites including the back (r = 0.85, P < 0.00001), forehead (r = 0.85, P < 0.00001), inner forearm (r = 0.75, P < 0.0001) and palm of the hand (r = 0.78, P < 0.0001). Skin carotenoid levels and MED were also correlated in these subjects (r = 0.66, P < 0.001), as were tristimulus b* values and MED (r = 0.71, P < 0.0002). From these observations, we conclude that carotenoids from a normal, unsupplemented diet accumulate in the skin and confer a measurable photoprotective benefit (at least in lightly pigmented Caucasian skin), that is directly linked to their concentration in the tissue. Carotenoids also appear to contribute measurably and significantly to normal human skin color, in particular the appearance of "yellowness" as defined objectively by CR200 tristimulus b* values. On the basis of these findings we believe that objective measurements of skin color, in particular tristimulus b* values, may be a potentially useful means of monitoring dietary carotenoid status and assessing UV photosensitivity in Caucasian populations.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Antioxidants / pharmacology
  • Back
  • Carotenoids / administration & dosage
  • Carotenoids / analysis
  • Carotenoids / pharmacology*
  • Diet*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Radiation
  • Erythema / etiology
  • Erythema / prevention & control
  • Female
  • Forearm
  • Forehead
  • Hand
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Skin / chemistry
  • Skin / radiation effects*
  • Skin Pigmentation*
  • Ultraviolet Rays*


  • Antioxidants
  • Carotenoids