Due to their potential health-promoting effects, carotenoids have drawn both scientific and public attention in recent years. The primary source of carotenoids in the human skin is diet, mainly fruits, vegetables, and marine product, but they may originate from supplementation and topical application, too. In the skin, they accumulate mostly in the epidermis and act as a protective barrier to various environmental influences. Namely, the skin is exposed to numerous environmental factors, including ultraviolet radiation (UVR), air pollution, and smoking, that cause oxidative stress within the skin with consequent premature (extrinsic) aging. UVR, as the most prominent environmental factor, may cause additional detrimental skin effects, such as sunburn, DNA damage, and skin cancer. Therefore, photoprotection is the first line intervention in the prevention of premature aging and skin cancer. Numerous studies have demonstrated that carotenoids, particularly β-carotene, lycopene, lutein, and astaxanthin, have photoprotective effects, not only through direct light-absorbing properties, but also through their antioxidant effects (scavenging reactive oxygen species), as well as by regulation of UV light-induced gene expression, modulation of stress-dependent signaling, and/or suppression of cellular and tissue responses like inflammation. Interventional studies in humans with carotenoid-rich diet have shown its photoprotective effects on the skin (mostly by decreasing the sensitivity to UVR-induced erythema) and its beneficial effects in prevention and improvement of skin aging (improved skin elasticity and hydration, skin texture, wrinkles, and age spots). Furthermore, carotenoids may be helpful in the prevention and treatment of some photodermatoses, including erythropoietic protoporphyria (EPP), porphyria cutanea tarda (PCT) and polymorphous light eruption (PMLE). Although UVR is recognized as the main etiopathogenetic factor in the development of non-melanoma skin cancer (NMSC) and melanoma, and the photoprotective effects of carotenoids are certain, available studies still could not undoubtedly confirm the protective role of carotenoids in skin photocarcinogenesis.
Keywords: antioxidant; cosmeceuticals; nutraceuticals; oral photoprotection; photocarcinogenesis; skin aging; skin cancer; skin health.