Beta carotene is a nutritional supplement that boosts the body’s production of vitamin A. Besides its anti-oxidant properties, it is also known for its ability to offer skin a level of built-in protection against harmful UV radiation. However, claims that this substance can substantially lower the risk of sunburn and skin damage in the general population should be investigated further before making a decision to begin a supplement regimen.
Benefits Real – But Minimal
According to a 2007 meta-analysis of available studies on beta-carotenes and sun exposure, long-term supplementation does have a noticeable effect. The studies analyzed were placebo controlled, so the researchers could draw conclusions with a fair level of confidence. However, only 135 patients in all participated in these studies. This means the results are compelling but should probably be verified with larger scale trials.
Apparently, it takes at least 10 weeks for the body to incorporate enough beta carotene to make a difference regardless of dosage. Each subsequent month of daily supplementation seems to lead to a higher level of skin protection. The maximum level of benefit appears to top out at a sun protection factor of about 4. This is much lower than most sun screens on the market.
The up side to beta carotene as an internal sun block would be that it affects the entire surface of the skin all the time. The downside is that it can’t offer much protection. It certainly isn’t a substitute for using a sunscreen on a daily basis to shield against sunburn, photo aging, and skin cancer. Patients should discuss appropriate skin care including topical sun blocking agents and nutrition with their dermatologist to achieve long term skin health.
Excessive consumption of carotenoids can give the skin a yellowish-orange tinge. This condition is called carotenoderma and is generally considered unsightly but not harmful. It goes away after intake is brought back to normal levels.
Some individuals are not good candidates for taking high levels of this supplement. For example, smokers may be cautioned against taking beta carotene because it has been linked to an increased risk of lung cancer (it has not been shown to have this effect in non-smokers).
In contrast, there are some patients who seem to receive a more noticeable than average benefit from carotenoid supplementation. Individuals with a rare skin condition called Erythropoietic Protoporphyria that causes extreme photosensitivity are often prescribed beta carotene to decrease their painful response to sunlight.