Carotenoid phytonutrient lutein is a promising ingredient for protecting skin against sun damage.
Lutein is a carotenoid compound present in many different edible and non-edible plants. It has been suggested to improve skin health and appearance through:
- Antioxidant activity. Lutein and other carotenoids accumulate in the skin, protecting it from UV damage.
Lutein is a carotenoid compound known for its yellow color. Like other carotenoids, it is found in high levels in vegetables and fruits, such as kale, spinach, squash, pumpkin, corn, and carrots. As a result, people that eat more fruits and vegetables have higher lutein levels.
In nature, lutein is usually present alongside zeaxanthin – a related carotenoid. Together they accumulate in the eye, helping protect it from photo-oxidative damage. Because of this, lutein and zeaxanthin supplements are most commonly used to protect against macular degeneration, cataracts, and other eye health concerns.
In addition, lutein is also known to accumulate in the skin, where its antioxidant properties help protect against ultraviolet light damage – the main preventable cause of skin aging. Because of this, an increasing number of people are using lutein-containing supplements and cosmetic products to improve skin health and appearance, and halt premature skin aging.
Read more: Vision Health Supplements
Best Dietary Sources of Lutein
|Dietary Source||Lutein Content|
|Collard Greens||14.6 mg|
|Turnip Greens||12.2 mg|
|Mustard Greens||8.3 mg|
|Summer Squash||4.0 mg|
|Green Peas||3.8 mg|
How Lutein Might Help With Skin Health
As such, taking lutein supplements can increase lutein concentrations in your skin, providing increased protection against photo-oxidative damage.
Lutein Uses & Benefits for the Skin
Lutein supplements and topical products (with and without zeaxanthin) are increasingly popular for protecting the skin from premature aging caused by ultraviolet sun damage. This premature aging can lead to dry skin, wrinkles, and loss of elasticity.
This use is backed by a growing volume of research demonstrating increased antioxidant skin protection following treatment with lutein and other carotenoids. In particular, studies have shown that lutein reduces ultraviolet light damage, protecting the skin from reddening and other signs of sun damage, and may even improve skin hydration and elasticity.
Lutein is such a promising skin nutrient that researchers suggest increasing “the daily intake of lutein and zeaxanthin for optimal skin health and photoprotection.” 3
Finally, research reveals that taking lutein orally is at least as, and possibly even more effective than applying it directly to the skin.
Read more: Skin Supplements Guide
Animal and isolated cell culture studies of lutein report improved protection against ultraviolet light. Specific findings indicate that:
- Lutein and other carotenoids protect isolated human skin cells from ultraviolet light damage 4 5
- Hairless mice supplemented with lutein and zeaxanthin were protected against ultraviolet radiation, as shown by reduced skin inflammation 6
- Lutein supplementation increases skin lutein levels in mice, which in turn “contribute to the defense against some of the deleterious effects of solar radiation” 7
Human studies of lutein have been overwhelmingly positive, demonstrating increased protection against UV damage and even improvements in skin appearance.
This randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study evaluated the skin-protective effects of lutein and zeaxanthin. Forty women were given placebo, lutein, zeaxanthin, or the two together, either orally or topically (directly on the skin). Compared to placebo, the carotenoid groups experienced improvements in skin hydration, lipid (fat) content, elasticity, and antioxidant protection, with the combination group having the best results. Another unexpected finding was that taking lutein orally resulted in better skin protection than applying it directly to the skin.
- The researchers concluded that “…oral administration of lutein may provide better protection than that afforded by topical application…when measured by changes in lipid peroxidation and photoprotective activity in the skin following UV light irradiation.” 8
This randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study examined the skin-protective effects of lycopene‐rich tomato nutrient complex (TNC) and lutein. A total of 65 adults were given placebo, TNC, or lutein (20 mg) capsules daily for 12 weeks, and changed groups 2 weeks later to repeat the experiment. Both THC and lutein supplementation helped protect the skin from UV damage.
- The researchers concluded that “…TNC and lutein could protect against solar radiation‐induced health damage.” 9
This placebo-controlled study compared the ability of carotenoids to protect against erythema (skin reddening) caused by UV damage. A total of 36 participants were given placebo, beta-carotene, (24 mg) or a mixture of beta-carotene, lutein, and lycopene (8 mg each) daily for 12 weeks. Both carotenoid groups experienced increases in skin carotenoid levels, and had improved protection against UV-caused erythema.
- The researchers concluded that “Long-term supplementation for 12 wk with 24 mg/d of a carotenoid mix supplying similar amounts of beta-carotene, lutein and lycopene ameliorates UV-induced erythema in humans….” 10
This randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study examined the skin-protective effects of branded lutein/zeaxanthin supplement Lutemax 2020. A total of 50 individuals with dry skin were given placebo or Lutemax 2020 (10 mg lutein/2 mg zeaxanthin) daily for 12 weeks. Compared to placebo, the carotenoid group experienced lightening of skin and had increased protection from sunburn.
- The researchers concluded that “L/Zi supplementation lightens and improves skin conditions.” 11
Dosage for Skin
- Successful research studies most commonly use 10-20 mg doses of lutein
- Most lutein supplements come in 10–20 mg capsule dosages
- Lutein supplements often contain zeaxanthin at dosages of 1 – 10 mg
- Like other carotenoids lutein is fat-soluble, meaning that its absorption may be improved when taken with fat-containing foods
- Lutein in supplements is typically extracted from marigold flower petals, and then sold in softgels or tablets.
- Lutemax 2020®. This is a branded, patented form of lutein and zeaxanthin that has been shown to protect the skin from UV light in a clinical trial.
- Lutein is also present in a wide variety of topical/cosmetic products such as creams. However, current research indicates that oral supplementation may be more effective than topical application.
Supplements in Review Recommendation
- Lutein, 10-20 mg for skin health.
We recommend lutein-containing products for skin health. Although more research is needed for a strong recommendation, the existing clinical research demonstrates that lutein helps protect the skin against UV damage and can even improve its appearance.
Oral 10-20 mg dosages are ideal. We recommend sticking to 10-20 mg daily dosages of lutein most commonly used in research, and using oral supplements over topical products.
- Evans JA and Johnson EJ. The role of phytonutrients in skin health. Nutrients. 2010 Aug;2(8):903-28. ↩
- M E Darvin et al. Non-invasive in vivo determination of the carotenoids beta-carotene and lycopene concentrations in the human skin using the Raman spectroscopic method. Journal of Physics D: Applied Physics, Volume 38, Number 15 ↩
- Richard L. Roberts. Lutein, Zeaxanthin, and Skin Health. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine Vol 7, Issue 3, pp. 182 – 185First Published February 22, 2013. ↩
- Eichler O et al. Divergent optimum levels of lycopene, beta-carotene and lutein protecting against UVB irradiation in human fibroblasts. Photochem Photobiol. 2002 May;75(5):503-6. ↩
- Pongcharoen S et al. Protective effect of silk lutein on ultraviolet B-irradiated human keratinocytes. Biol Res. 2013;46(1):39-45. ↩
- González S et al. Dietary lutein/zeaxanthin decreases ultraviolet B-induced epidermal hyperproliferation and acute inflammation in hairless mice. J Invest Dermatol. 2003 Aug;121(2):399-405. ↩
- Lee EH et al. Dietary lutein reduces ultraviolet radiation-induced inflammation and immunosuppression. J Invest Dermatol. 2004 Feb;122(2):510-7. ↩
- Palombo P et al. Beneficial long-term effects of combined oral/topical antioxidant treatment with the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin on human skin: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. 2007;20(4):199-210. ↩
- Grether-Beck S et al. Molecular evidence that oral supplementation with lycopene or lutein protects human skin against ultraviolet radiation: results from a double‐blinded, placebo‐controlled, crossover study. Br J Dermatol. 2017 May;176(5):1231-1240. ↩
- Heinrich U et al. Supplementation with beta-carotene or a similar amount of mixed carotenoids protects humans from UV-induced erythema. J Nutr. 2003 Jan;133(1):98-101. ↩
- Juturu V et al. Overall skin tone and skin-lightening-improving effects with oral supplementation of lutein and zeaxanthin isomers: a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2016 Oct 7;9:325-332. ↩