EATING plenty of tomatoes could stave off wrinkles and even skin cancer, according to a new study.
The fruit is rich in an antioxidant called lycopene that helps shield the body from harmful UV radiation.
However, the study clarified that tomatoes are not good substitute for sunscreen, however, they offer another important line of defense.
The German researchers said their findings could lead to people taking supplements containing the chemical for health - or cosmetic - purposes.
Tomatoes are rich in an antioxidant called lycopene. The researchers also found another pigment known as lutein which is also abundant in spinach and kale that gave similar results.
They compared the skin of 65 people who were divided into two groups - one given a supplement called TNC (tomato nutrient complex) or a placebo and the other lutein or the dummy treatment.
At the beginning and end of each 12-week treatment phase their skin was exposed to two types of ultraviolet (UV) light, UVA1 and UVA/B in a process known as irradiation - with biopsies taken 24 hours later.
These showed those who received no lycopene or lutein had increased expression of certain “indicator genes” linked to wrinkly skin and inflammation - two common side effects of sun damage.
In contrast both treatments significantly reduced the expression of these genes.
The findings follow a study in 2012 which concluded women who ate a diet rich in tomatoes had increased skin protection, reduced redness and less DNA damage from ultraviolet rays.
Applying sunscreen is an effective defense against sun damage but doctors have said this juicy fruit should be part of your overall diet for better looking skin.
“To the best of our knowledge we show here for the first time tomato nutrient complex (TNC) as well as lutein do not only protect healthy human skin against UVB/A, but also against long wave UVA1 radiation and oral photo-protection of healthy human skin can be demonstrated,” Professor Jean Krutmann, of Leibniz Research Institute for Environmental Medicine in Dusseldorf.
Previous studies into lycopene have generally assessed its ability to reduce UV-induced erythema, which is the skin reddening that is a sign of sun damage.
One such study found people taking a lycopene mixture had 33 percent more protection against sunburn - equivalent to a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 1.3.
This latest study looks at gene expression as a method of demonstrating sun damage to human skin. The study was published in the British Journal of Dermatology.