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The Science of Zeaxanthin in Skin Care

Escrito por: Dr. Leslie Baumann

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Tempo de leitura 7 min

Zeaxanthin is an increasingly popular antioxidant ingredient with tons of untapped potential. Well studied as an additive in oral supplements, this carotenoid has a few meaningful benefits in skin care too. Find out how this ingredient works and how it compares to the competition.

Want to know the secret to healthier skin? Take the Baumann Skin Type Quiz to unlock your skin type and get customized product recommendations! Your skin type results provide the foundation for choosing the best ingredients and formulations to target your specific concerns. There's no better way to know if a product is right for your skin!

zeaxanthin

What is zeaxanthin?

Zeaxanthin is a yellow-orange carotenoid antioxidant found naturally in many fruits and vegetables. Carotenoids are pigments produced by plants that give vegetables their bright orange and yellow hues. Over 600 carotenoids exist in nature, but only about 20 are present in human blood and tissues.

Zeaxanthin is one of the three main carotenoids found in the human eye, along with lutein and meso-zeaxanthin. (9) These compounds appear in the retina and lens, providing vivid yellow pigments that filter damaging blue light and help protect the eye from UV damage.

Zeaxanthin’s antioxidant properties allow it to neutralize free radicals and prevent oxidative stress. This helps guard the skin against premature aging caused by sun exposure, stress and environmental pollution.

How does zeaxanthin work?

When applied topically or ingested orally, zeaxanthin can provide significant antioxidant protection to human skin cells. It works in several ways:

  • Neutralizes free radicals: As a powerful antioxidant, zeaxanthin donates electrons to stabilize harmful free radicals before they can cause oxidative damage to skin cell membranes and DNA. (1,7)
  • Reduces inflammation: Zeaxanthin suppresses certain pro-inflammatory responses to sun damage. (11)
  • Protects from UV radiation: By absorbing UV rays, zeaxanthin shields skin from sunburn, DNA damage and general UV radiation concerns.
  • Keeps skin moisturized: By slowing down the deterioration (peroxidation) of fatty acids in the skin barrier, zeaxanthin helps the skin maintain moisture. (6)
  • Promotes collagen: Zeaxanthin stimulates fibroblasts to produce more collagen, the protein that gives skin its firmness and elasticity. (3)
benefits of zeaxanthin

Benefits of zeaxanthin in skin care

Most studies conducted on zeaxanthin refer to its use in oral supplements, however more skin care research on this ingredient is being conducted all the time. Currently, research suggests that increasing zeaxanthin intake and topical application can provide the following benefits:

  • Reduces signs of aging: Zeaxanthin rejuvenates aged, sun-damaged skin by reducing wrinkles, pigmentation spots, and roughness.
  • Helps protect from skin cancer: By neutralizing UV-induced free radicals, zeaxanthin lowers the risk of melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers.
  • Soothes acne and rosacea: The anti-inflammatory activity of zeaxanthin calms irritation and redness from inflammatory skin conditions.
  • Boosts hydration: Zeaxanthin increases moisture retention in the epidermis for visibly plumper, dewier skin.
  • Improves elasticity: Zeaxanthin stimulates collagen production to enhance skin’s firmness and resilience.
  • Evens skin tone: By fighting against photodamage and somewhat inhibiting tyrosinase, zeaxanthin can be useful in preventing and treating dark spots. (4)

Is zeaxanthin safe?

Zeaxanthin in skin care and in oral supplements is very safe. It’s non-toxic even at high doses. The only side effects reported are harmless changes in skin coloration from beta-carotene (orange hue).

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has graded zeaxanthin with a safety score of “1,” which means it is considered very safe.

If you are looking for a clean, natural anti-aging ingredient, zeaxanthin could be right for you!

zeaxanthin vs retinol

Zeaxanthin vs Retinol

How does zeaxanthin compare to the anti-aging superstar retinol?

  • Retinol speeds cellular turnover to reveal newer, plumper skin and stimulates collagen. But it can cause irritation, dryness and sun sensitivity in some people.
  • Zeaxanthin is gentler than retinol. It provides antioxidant protection and anti-inflammatory benefits to soothe and calm sensitive skin.
  • Retinol makes skin more photosensitive, requiring diligent sunscreen use. Zeaxanthin offers natural sun protection.
  • For sensitive skin types prone to irritation, zeaxanthin may be better tolerated than prescription retinoids.
  • Zeaxanthin enhances collagen production and hydration for firmer, smoother skin like retinol but with fewer side effects.

Overall, even though these two ingredients are similar, they each serve functions the other does not, and are best used at different times of day. Zeaxanthin would make a good sunscreen ingredient while retinoids would certainly not. Using a zeaxanthin products in the morning and a retinol product at night would be the correct way to incorporate both into your routine. (1,2)

Topical vs oral zeaxanthin

While zeaxanthin is more commonly taken as a supplement, studies show benefits from both oral and topical use:

  • Oral zeaxanthin: Boosts overall skin antioxidant levels when consumed in the diet from foods or supplements. But only a small fraction is distributed to the skin.
  • Topical zeaxanthin: Applied directly to the skin’s surface in creams or serums. Provides more targeted antioxidant protection to the skin.

For maximum results, I recommend combining oral and topical zeaxanthin to enhance photoprotection internally and externally. (5) Look for zeaxanthin in skin care products formulated with other antioxidants like Vitamins C and E.

which skin types can use zeaxanthin

Which skin types should use zeaxanthin?

Zeaxanthin offers versatile anti-aging and soothing benefits suitable for all skin types. But those who may benefit most include:

  1. Dry, dehydrated skin: Zeaxanthin helps the skin hold on to moisture by keeping the skin barrier healthy.
  2. Sensitive, reactive skin: Zeaxanthin calms inflammation and is less irritating than retinol. 
  3. Mature skin: Zeaxanthin stimulates collagen, reduces wrinkles, tightens and brightens aging skin. (1,3)
  4. Acne-prone skin: The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties help prevent breakouts.
  5. Sun-damaged skin: Zeaxanthin protects against UV-induced pigmentation and fights skin cancers. (6)

Today, there aren't many products with zeaxanthin in skin care because it is still going through research trials and being adopted by the industry. There are plenty of other products and great ingredients to use while the skin care world gets ready for zeaxanthin!

Supplements similar to zeaxanthin

Most supplements on the market with zeaxanthine are formulated to protect the eyes- not skin.  Here are supplements that protect the skin from the sun.  Most of these do not have zeaxanthine but have other carotenoids, Vitamin C, or polypodium leucotomas.

Closing thoughts

The antioxidant zeaxanthin offers extensive skin-enhancing benefits when used topically and orally. By neutralizing free radicals, reducing inflammation, protecting from UV rays, hydrating the skin and promoting collagen synthesis, zeaxanthin reveals smoother, firmer, more youthful looking skin.

While more research is still needed, both animal and human studies report excellent efficacy and safety. Zeaxanthin appears gentler than prescription retinoids, making it ideal for sensitive skin.

Unfortunately, we don't currently carry any products with zeaxanthin, but you can still take the Baumann Skin Type Quiz to see what products are recommended for your Baumann Skin Type.

Level up your skin care knowledge with medical advice from dermatologists

Are zeaxanthin and lutein good for your skin?

Studies show that both of these compounds are good for preventing and treating sun damage, soothing some kinds of inflammation, and eliminating free radicals on the skin that can lead to wrinkles or some kinds of cancer. Overall, these ingredients are good in both skin care and oral supplements.

Is zeaxanthin the same as beta-carotene?

Even though these compounds are related, they are not the same. One major difference between beta-carotene and zeaxanthin is that beta-carotene becomes Vitamin A in the body while zeaxanthin does not.

Can Zeaxanthine protect the eyes from ageing?

Many studies have suggested that zeaxanthine can help protect the eyes from macular degeneration.

What foods have Zeaxanthine?

It is found in pumpkins, carrots, gogi berries, corn, and eggs.

Best References and Scientific Publications on Zeaxanthin:

  1. Baumann L. Antiaging Ingredients in Ch. 37 of Baumann's Cosmetic Dermatology Ed 3. (McGraw Hill 2022)
  2. Baumann, L. Ch.  Cosmeceuticals and Cosmetic Ingredients (McGraw Hill 2015)
  3. Meinke, M. C., Nowbary, C. K., Schanzer, S., Vollert, H., Lademann, J., & Darvin, M. E. (2017). Influences of orally taken carotenoid-rich curly kale extract on collagen I/elastin index of the skin. Nutrients, 9(7), 775.
  4. Nahhas, A. F., Abdel‐Malek, Z. A., Kohli, I., Braunberger, T. L., Lim, H. W., & Hamzavi, I. H. (2019). The potential role of antioxidants in mitigating skin hyperpigmentation resulting from ultraviolet and visible light‐induced oxidative stress. Photodermatology, photoimmunology & photomedicine, 35(6), 420-428.
  5. Palombo, P., Fabrizi, G., Ruocco, V., Ruocco, E., Fluhr, J., Roberts, R., & Morganti, P. (2007). 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 pharmacology and physiology, 20(4), 199-210.
  6.  Morganti P, Bruno C, Guarneri F, Cardillo A, Del Ciotto P, Valenzano F. Role of topical and nutritional supplements to modify the oxidative stress. Int J Cosmet Sci. 2002 Dec;24(6):331-9.
  7.  Heinen MM, Hughes MC, Ibiebele TI, Marks GC, Green AC, van der Pols JC. Intake of antioxidant nutrients and the risk of skin cancer. Eur J Cancer. 2007 Dec;43(18):2707-16.
  8. Stahl W, Sies H. Bioactivity and protective effects of natural carotenoids. Biochim Biophys Acta. 2005 May 30:1740(2):101-7.
  9. Thurnham DI. Macular zeaxanthins and lutein – a review of dietary sources and biovailability and some relationships with macular pigment optical density and age-related macular disease. Nutr Res Rev. 2007 Dec;20(2):163-79.
  10. Astner S, Wu A, Chen J, Philips N, Rius-Diaz F, Parrado C, Mihm MC, Goukassian DA, Pathak MA, González S. Dietary lutein/zeaxanthin partially reduces photoaging and photocarcinogenesis in chronically UVB-irradiated Skh-1 hairless mice. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. 2007;20(6):283-91.
  11. González S, Astner S, An W, Goukassian D, Pathak MA. Dietary lutein/zeaxanthin decreases ultraviolet B-induced epidermal hyperproliferation and acute inflammation in hairless mice. J Invest Dermatol. 2003 Aug;121(2):399-405.