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.

tomato antiageing

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.

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“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.

Find out how to eat your way to healthy skin with these complexion-boosting foods...

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  • Pomegranate

    "Pomegranate contains many anti-oxidant and phytonutrient compounds such as Ellagic Acid, that help keep inflammation in check and support the skin during the many elements of the day, such as heating and cold air, as well as environmental toxins," explains Robyn Mason.

  • Blueberries

    "Blueberries are one of the most powerful edible antioxidants thanks to its unique anthocyanains. These build up the skin's capillaries and protect them from breakages, which cause rashes and broken veins," says Dr Barbara Olioso.

  • Carrots

    "These cheerful, crunchy vegetables are sky-high in beta carotene, which strengthens the skin against sun damage," says Dr Barbara Olioso.

  • Artichoke

    "Artichokes contain sillymarin and cynarin, whcih both help support the liver and gallbladder. This ensures skin doesn't turn dull and lifeless, as it gets rid of the toxins and waste from the body which also minimises puffiness," advises Robyn Mason

  • Prickly Pear

    "These are Sicily's best kept secret... The prickly pear is a great tonic for the kidneys with its kidney detoxifying properties that help keep skin clear and glowing," says Dr Barbara Olioso.

  • Bananas

    "Bananas are rich in potassium, which helps the body cope with stress, a collagen killer. This fruit will help your skin avoid stress-related break-outs and premature ageing," says Dr Barbara Olioso.

  • Broccoli

    "Broccoli contains a compound that helps boost DNA repair cells and is high in vitamin C, which is needed for collagen production, as well as folate, which is needed for healthy new cell production. Broccoli is also a great source of Sulforaphane, which helps heal the skin from UV rays," says Robyn Mason.

  • Tomato

    "Tomatoes, especially beneficial when cooked, are rich in Lycopene, which is a key anti-ageing property for the skin, so eat these whenever possible," advises Louise Thomas-Minns.

  • Coconut

    "Coconut contains triglycerides, which are healthy fats that plump up skin membranes and cells by keeping them hydrated. Without these fats, the skin becomes dehydrated no matter how much water you drink. Adequate essential fatty acids really do make the skin glow," says Robyn Mason.

  • Garlic

    "Garlic is rich in sulphur compounds and is known as the 'beauty mineral' due to its long established benefits for all kinds of skin concerns. Onions and garlic are also prebiotic foods which are good for the gut flora and supports liver detoxification - helping skin stay clear of toxin break-outs," says Robyn Mason.

  • Kiwi

    "Snack on a kiwi fruit to bump up your vitamin C intake, as this is vital for boosting collagen production," says Louise Thomas-Minns.

  • Strawberries

    "The fruit of passion is a rich source of vitamin C, a great collagen production booster. Combine these with carrots and you've got yourself a potent, but natural defence against the sun's UV rays," advises Dr Barbara Olioso.

  • Kale

    "Kale is one of the best sources of beta-carotene, a fantastic anti-ageing anti-oxidant. In addition, it also contains other carotenoids, such as lutein and zeaxathin, which help protect the skin from UV rays. Kale also contains manganese, which is helps the Super-Oxide Dismutase, a hard-working enzyme that helps the skin fight against free radical damage," says Robyn Mason.

  • Avocado

    "The green 'butter rich' avocado is rich in nutrients and helps keep skin soothe and soft on the outside. However, these are best eaten fresh rather than in an oil form, as the oil is prone to oxidation," explains Dr. Dr Barbara Olioso.

  • Pineapple

    "Pineapples not only taste great, but they contain a massive amount of vitamin A, C and the bromelain enzyme, which helps burn fat and aids digestion. For the skin, this means that it helps break down fatty tissues and is particularly beneficial for reducing cellulite," says Dr Barbara Olioso.

If you can't tear yourself away from your beloved face creams, take a look at the most innovative anti-ageing skincare products on the market...

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  • La Prairie Cellular Power Infusion

    This wonder serum provides a protective layer over the skin, which shields it from external stress and free radicals from the environment. It works by targeting the primary cause of ageing (the loss of cellular energy) and its potent ingredients rejuvenate the skin by working with its natural renewal cycle. The only snag is that you must use this consistently for 28 to 40 days but if you follow the instructions, it promises to restore the skin at any stage of the ageing process. Well worth the hassle we'd say.. <a href="http://www.cellularpowerinfusion.com/" target="_hplink">La Prairie Cellular Power Infusion</a>.

  • 111 SKIN

    This potent 'astro aqua physics' skin care range has taken five years to develop and is the result of 20 years of research. Developed in collaboration with space scientists, 111 SKIN combines Dr. Alexandrides' knowledge of accelerating the skin's healing process with the scientists' expertise in discovering ingredients that limit the effects of environmental damage on skin - whether in space, high altitude or urban conditions. <a href="http://www.111skin.com/index.html" target="_hplink">111 SKIN</a>.

  • Nutriganics 'Drops Of Youth'

    If your prefer your skincare regime to contain natural ingredients (and without all the science jargon), head to this miracle product - a plant-based serum that contains essential skin renewal stem cells that halt the first signs of ageing. <a href="http://www.thebodyshop.co.uk/_en/_gb/catalog/product.aspx?ParentCatCode=C_SkinCare&CatCode=C_SkinCare_Serums&prdcode=89333m" target="_hplink">The Body Shop</a>.

  • Fake Bake Platinum Face

    When you can combine fake tanning and shaving off the years on your skin - what's not to love? Fake Bake's Platinum Face is the world's first anti-ageing tan and contains cell renewal PhytoCellTecTM Malus Domestica stem cells extracted from the rare Swiss apple, Uttwiler Spätlauber. <a href="http://www.fakebake.co.uk/" target="_hplink">Fake Bake</a>.

  • Freeze 24.7 Instant Wrinkle Treatment

    You can literally 'freeze time' with this cream that promises to provide the same results as Botox - without the use of needles or having your skin penetrated with muscle-relaxant. The revolutionary technology releases a natural topical muscle relaxer into the skin and works from the inside out to yield a smoother, plumper, even complexion...all within minutes. <a href="http://www.freeze247.com/" target="_hplink">Freeze 24.7</a>

  • Rodial Glamoxy Snake Serum

    This viper-inspired serum had beauty junkies lining up to bag this age-dying wonder, as it contains a potent concoction of syn-ake; a neuropeptide chemical that mimics the effects of a snake's venom. Why would you want to pump this in your face? The venom instantly fills out fine lines and wrinkles and makes the face look fuller, that's why. <a href="http://www.rodial.co.uk/product/prescriptions-anti-ageing/glamoxy-snake-serum/256" target="_hplink">Rodial</a>.

  • Dove Spa Anti-Ageing Supplements

    Working with the mantra 'beauty is from within', Dove Spa has created a supplement that, after five years research, has been clinically proven to reduce the signs of ageing. Packed with Omega-3 fatty oils, Soy isoflavones, vitamin C, E and Lycopenes, these vitamins all help repair flagging collagen levels, keeping skin looking plump and youthful. <a href="http://www.dovespa.co.uk/Strength-Within-4-for-99-P474.aspx" target="_hplink">Dove Spa</a>.

  • Dr Sebagh Supreme Night Secret

    A clear example of intelligent beauty, this night cream 'tricks' the skin cell's nucleus into behaving like a young skin cell - all while you sleep. <a href="http://www.drsebagh.com/" target="_hplink">Dr Sebagh</a>.

  • Nanoblur

    You know a product is pretty special when it promises to make you look 10 years younger in less than one minute. What's better is that it doesn't have any mod-cons - the Nanoblur does exactly what it says on the tin. By this we mean that it literally blurs out fine lines, flaws and blemishes with a simple dab. One of these sell every 10 seconds in the UK, so we're guessing it works.. Nanoblur's technology was originally developed to help stars look better in high-definition motion picture. Are you ready for your close-up? <a href="Nanoblur's technology was originally developed to help stars look better in high-definition motion picture." target="_hplink">Nanoblur</a>.

  • Skeen+ Regenerating Anti-Ageing Night Fluid

    Originally created for men, this skincare range has expanded into the women's market - and thank goodness it did! Another intelligent form of skincare, Skeen contains salicylic acid which stimulates skin cell renewal and repairs damaged cells while you sleep. An added bonus is that it contains a decongestant, which purges the skin creating a glowing complexion when you wake up in the morning. Genius. <a href="http://uk.spacenk.com/SKEEN/Skeen,en_GB,sc.html" target="_hplink">Skeen</a>.