Scientists believe the key to ageless skin could be staring right back at you from your salad bowl.
According to research led by Newcastle University, the red tomato helps protect the skin from sunburn and skin ageing caused by sunlight exposure thanks to the ingredient lycopene – the natural pigment that makes tomatoes red.
The results of the study, due to be presented at the Royal Society of Medicine this week, claim that women who eat a diet rich in tomatoes have 33% more protection against ultraviolet (UV) exposure than those who don't eat the salad fruit.
During the study of 20 women aged between 21 and 47, half were asked to eat 5tbsp (55g) of processed tomato-based paste (thought to contain the highest levels of lycopene).
The other half ate a tomato paste containing 10g of olive oil. All participants consumed the tomato paste for 12-weeks.
Scientists said this paste acted as an equivalent to a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 1.3.
Researchers discovered that those who ate the lycopene-rich paste (without olive oil) had higher levels of procollagen – a molecule which gives the skin its structure.
“Eating tomatoes will not make you invincible in the sun, but it may be a useful addition to sun protection along with sunscreens, shade and clothing,” says professor Mark Birch-Machin, lead author of the study, in a statement.
Having a diet rich in tomatoes is, "likely to contribute to improved skin health, which in turn may have an anti-ageing effect," concludes Birch-Machin.
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