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Astaxanthin is a xanthophyll carotenoid (yellow pigment) synthesised by plants, algae, sea creatures, microbes and yeasts. It is responsible for the red-orange pigment common to many aquatic animals including prawns and crayfish. It’s functions for these animals include protection from UV light, communication, immune response, reproductive capacity, stress tolerance, and protection against oxidation. It has been studied extensively for human applications, especially in the field of dermatology.
Astaxanthin is considered the most powerful antioxidant carotenoid and is most well-known for protecting the skin from sunburn when taken orally. It also has clinical applications in treating post-inflammatory pigmentation, hyper-pigmentation, sun damaged skin, wrinkles, all inflammatory skin conditions, and skin cancer chemoprevention. It does this by regulating DNA repair, reducing the inflammatory response, and modulating the immune system.
Oxidative stress plays a crucial role in skin aging and skin damage. As our skin ages collagen and elastin production naturally declines, reducing our skin’s defence against pro-oxidants like UV light, radiation, and chemicals in our food, water and environment. The formation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) can lead to DNA damage and reduced natural production of antioxidants.
Supplementing with antioxidants that target the skin can make a marked difference. Astaxanthin was shown to have greater antioxidant activity than any other carotenoid against oxidative sun damage to human skin cells. It was also shown to upregulate the immune system’s defence against oxidative damage to irradiated cells, and to promote wound healing.
Oxidative stress leads to chronic inflammation which can lead to chronic skin disease or damage. Psoriasis and atopic dermatitis (eczema) are hereditary, chronic, inflammatory skin diseases. Studies show that astaxanthin inhibits inflammation by interfering with gene expression of several pro-inflammatory biomarkers in keratinocytes (skin cells).
Evidence from Human Studies
Immune cells are highly vulnerable to oxidative damage and they produce high amounts of free radicals and inflammatory mediators. A study was done to investigate the effects of astaxanthin on the immune systems of young, healthy females. After eight weeks supplementation, astaxanthin enhanced both cell-mediated and innate immune responses. Furthermore, DNA damage biomarkers were significantly lower than the control group.
Just four weeks supplementation with astaxanthin in 31 middle-aged subjects alleviated age-related changes, and reduced levels of the oxidative stress biomarker malondialdehyde (MDA). In this study MDA decreased by 11.2% by day 15, and by 21.7% by day 29. The skin’s microbiome was also improved, with more favourable bacteria present.
Another study examined the effects of 16 weeks astaxanthin supplementation on skin integrity in 65 female participants. The study showed that skin moisture content and deep wrinkles were not significantly changed in the astaxanthin group, while the placebo group’s parameters significantly worsened during the study period. Skin elasticity also improved in the astaxanthin group.
Eight weeks combined topical and oral astaxanthin therapy resulted in significant improvements in skin wrinkle, age spot size, elasticity and skin texture for 30 women. A similar study conducted on 36 men evidenced improvements in wrinkles, elasticity, transepidermal water loss, moisture content and sebum oil level.
Astaxanthin may improve the skin condition of both men and women, those with inflammatory skin problems, pigmentation or just aging skin. Natural, food-sourced astaxanthin is best and the form that has been tested and approved by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is derived from the algae Haematococcus pluvialus. Doses of 6mg per day produce good results in studies, and up to 12mg per day is considered safe and beneficial to take long term. If you would like to add oral astaxanthin to your skin care regime contact us for a recommendation.