Anti-aging products promise to reverse the signs of aging and deliver younger looking skin. With such a vast range of skin care products on the market, consumers have had to get smarter about which products actually make good of their promises. Subsequently, marketers have had to get smarter as well. Many skin care product labels advertise “buzz word” ingredients, including antioxidants, proVitamin A, and beta-carotene.
Beta-carotene, found in many fruits and vegetables, is a precursor of Vitamin A. Most notably, beta-carotene is responsible for pigmentation qualities, such as the orange color of carrots. Considered an antioxidant for properties that protect from, and induce the breakdown of, free radical reactions in plants and animals, beta carotene increases resistance to various environmental influences.
Beta-carotene is usually synthesized from Vitamin A for cosmetic use, and is often used interchangeably with the term “proVitamin A.” It is widely used in the cosmetics industry, in suntan products, cleansers, moisturizers, aftershave lotions, bath products, makeup, hair care products, and facial skin care products. Its common use is as a tinting agent in makeup products and sunless tanning lotions. In hair care products, “proVitamin A” is used to solve fragility and prevent split-ends. In skin care products, beta-carotene is used for its antioxidant properties, its ability to protect the skin from sun damage (note that it is not intended for, or should be used as, a method of sun protection), and its ability to help even the skin tone, deeming it an active “anti-aging” ingredient. It is also used in anti-aging products for its sun damage protection capabilities
Intended Effects of Beta-Carotene in Skin Creams
Dermatologists use beta-carotene for its ability to increase cell turn-over and regeneration in the outer layers of the skin, making it effective for diseases and skin conditions related to epithelium damage. Topical application of beta-carotene in retailed skin care products can enhance the appearance of the skin by restoring suppleness and adding a “glowing” pigment that seemingly evens out the skin tone. Beta-carotene’s antioxidant attributes, such as sun damage protection, are used to prevent the signs of aging in the skin; and, in conjunction with its tinting ability, used in suntan creams and lotions to promote a continuous suntan while protecting the skin from sun damage. Beta-carotene’s corrective properties are used in skin creams to help heal scratches and prevent scarring, and to reduce skin irritation and itchiness.
Beware of marketing tricks when purchasing skin care products. Sales strategies highlight words like “antioxidants,” which consumers can automatically link to truths, such as how antioxidants benefit the skin by protecting it from free radicals, and ensuring it gets enough nutrients for healthy collagen production. While these general benefits of antioxidants are true, it does not imply that the skin care product and its active ingredient(s) delivers sufficient quantity or quality of antioxidants to support the ultimate claim, which is that the product will deliver fountain-of-youth results. Beta-carotene is classified as an antioxidant, but the benefits of its topical application will not support such claims as “reversing the signs of aging.” Even for the skin, antioxidants are more effective when taken from a healthy diet, or when taken as supplements, than when applied topically.
The “Beta Carotene and Retinol Efficacy” study conducted by medical professionals at UC Berkeley concluded that beta-carotene should not be taken as a supplement by smokers or even reformed smokers. This nutrient, as all nutrients, can be ingested safely from fruits and vegetables, but any antioxidant in supplement form should not be assumed safe or harmless. Consult a doctor before incorporating antioxidant supplements into daily vitamin intake. Also, excessive intake of beta-carotene can lead to a yellow-orange pigment of the skin that appears similar to jaundice.
References and ResourcesUC Berkeley Wellness Guide to Dietary Supplements: Beta-Carotene
MD Skin Care, by Dr. Dennis Gross
SmartSkinCare.com - Topical Beta-Carotene