Skin Health: The Role of Lutein, Zeaxanthin, Lycopene, and Astaxanthin

Lutein, zeaxanthin, lycopene, and astaxanthin belong to a group of nutrients called carotenoids. Carotenoids are a group of naturally occurring pigments that are largely responsible for the red, yellow, and orange color of fruits and vegetables and some animals. They are also found in many dark green vegetables; however the large amounts of chlorophyll in these plants masks them.

The natural carotenoid pigments carry out a variety of important biological functions. In humans, carotenoids function as antioxidants, stimulate cell to cell communication, are involved in cell growth, play a role in the immune system and some are converted by the body into vitamin A. (None of the above listed carotenoids, are converted into vitamin A.)

In terms of skin health one of the most important functions that these carotenoids play is their role as antioxidants. Free radicals form in skin during exposure to sunlight (particularly the UVA and UVB rays and blue light) and are believed to be largely responsible for skin aging. These free radicals break down DNA, proteins and fats in skin cells – this is sometimes referred to as photo-oxidative damage. The consequence is that skin cells are damaged and cannot create healthy new cells. Additionally, it has been found that UVA rays particularly degrade collagen.

All of these carotenoids deposit in the skin and appear to play a role in protecting the skin from photooxidation caused by exposure to the sun. Studies have used between 10 to 20 mg. These amounts increase concentrations of these carotenoids in the skin and have been shown to support skin health. The most important point to note is that it takes at least 8 to 10 weeks supplementing with these amounts in order to support healthy skin during times of sunlight exposure.

Statements of Nutritional Support:

  1. Lutein, zeaxanthin, lycopene, and astaxanthin are photoprotective nutrients and support skin health during sunlight exposure.
  2. Lutein, zeaxanthin, lycopene, and astaxanthin are antioxidants that deposit in the skin and play a role in neutralizing free radicals generated in the skin when exposed to sunlight.
  3. Lutein, zeaxanthin, lycopene, and astaxanthin help support a healthy inflammatory response in the skin during times of sunlight exposure.


Lutein and Zeaxanthin  (Yellow):

  • A recent human clinical study showed 10 mg of lutein daily increased skin hydration, elasticity and skin lipid content.
  • Lutein and zeaxanthin are antioxidants that deposit in the skin and play a role in supporting skin health by filtering blue light. Blue light is known to produce free radicals in the skin. (Blue light, in both indoor lighting and sunlight, is believed to induce oxidative stress and possible free-radical damage in human organs exposed to light, such as the eyes and skin.)

Lycopene (Orange-red)

  • Lycopenodermia: High intakes of lycopene-rich foods or supplements may result in a deep orange discoloration of the skin known as lycopenodermia. It is not harmful and will disappear upon discontinuation of supplementation with, and eating foods rich in, lycopene.


Of the carotenoids, zeaxanthin and astaxanthin never become pro-oxidants in any situation.

Supplements On the Shelf:

Natural Grocers only sells natural source forms of these carotenoids. This means, the supplements are extracted from natural sources and concentrated. There are two forms of lutein on the shelf: lutein and lutein esters. Lutein esters are lutein with fatty acids attached. In order for the body to utilize the lutein, it has to cleave it from the fatty acids. The body seems to be able to do this with no problems. Both forms appear to increase the amount of lutein in the blood. In order to get the same amount of lutein from lutein esters you have to take about double the amount. Some manufacturers, like NOW, who sell lutein esters account for this and so if the label reads 20 mg of lutein from lutein esters, the label explains that this supplies 10 mg of lutein. One more caveat to taking lutein esters, this form probably needs to be taken with some fat in order to ensure absorption.


Carotenoid Location
Lutein and Zeaxanthin – While there are individual supplements of lutein, this is not the case with zeaxanthin. These two are almost always found together with lutein in higher concentrations. This is the way they occur in foods. Eye health near the Bilberry
Lycopene Men’s Health near the prostate formulas
Astaxanthin Antioxidants


Food Sources:

  • Carotenoids are fat-soluble nutrients and therefore require fat for absorption. Since most of the carotenoids in the diet come from plants, eating them with some healthy fats will enhance absorption. Additionally, release of carotenoids from plant cells may require cooking, pureeing, or fine chopping.

Lutein and Zeaxanthin:

  • These two carotenoids are found together in foods with lutein predominating. They are yellow in color. Eggs can be a source of lutein and zeaxanthin, provided the chickens are fed a feed that contains them. While eggs contain less per ounce, it is better absorbed then vegetarian sources.
Lycopene Content of Selected Foods    
Food Amount MG
Tomato paste, canned 1 cup 75.4
Tomato juice, canned 1 cup 22
Watermelon, raw 1 wedge (1/16 of a melon that is 15 inches long x 7.5 inches in diameter) 13
Tomatoes, raw 1 cup 4.6
Catsup (ketchup) 1 tablespoon 2.5
Pink grapefruit, raw ½ grapefruit 1.7



  • Is a red-orange color that is found in highest amounts in aquatic animals, particularly krill, shrimps, crustaceans, and salmonid fish. Wild sockeye salmon has the highest concentration, with a 3.5oz serving providing 4mg