Beta-Carotene is an orange pigment that gives certain fruits and vegetables their vivid color. For example, carrots, pumpkin and sweet potatoes are some of the best sources of natural Beta-Carotene. Other natural food sources of Beta-Carotene are papayas, mangoes, cantaloupe, yams, apricots, tomatoes, spinach, kale and collard greens. Spinach and other greens don't have an orange color like most Beta-Carotene fruits and vegetables because they also have a high concentration of chlorophyll.
Beta-Carotene belongs to a class of compounds called carotenoids. Carotenoids are known for their antioxidant properties. A certain portion of Beta-Carotene is converted by the body to vitamin A, a vitamin important for tissue growth and repair and for healthy vision. The portion of Beta-Carotene that isn't converted to vitamin A functions as an antioxidant, a compound that helps to protect cells against oxidative damage. Studies show that oral Beta-Carotenes slow down the progression of macular degeneration, a common cause of adult blindness and may protect brain cells from oxidative stress that can lead to Alzheimer's disease.
Beta-Carotene is used in the field of dermatology to treat skin diseases made worse by exposure to ultraviolet light, such as solar urticaria, erythropoetic protoporphyria, and lupus, and to treat phototoxic drug reactions. Beta-Carotene is also an ingredient in some skin care products and cosmetics including skin cleansers, facial moisturizers, foundation, sun products, bath products, hair care products and anti-aging treatments. In anti-aging products, Beta-Carotene provides protection against sun damage and helps to even out skin tone and improve skin texture. Research suggests that Beta-Carotene as an oral supplement protects against oxidative damage due to exposure to sunlight but doesn't appear to reduce the risk of skin cancer.
Another way Beta-Carotene can improve the appearance of skin is by lightening areas of increased skin pigmentation. One study showed that topical Beta-Carotene is an effective treatment for melasma, a skin condition marked by blotchy areas of increased brown or dark-brown pigmentation. Melasma is most common on areas of skin that receive the most sun exposure, usually the cheeks, forehead, nose and chin and is more common in women. Hormonal changes play a role since melasma is more frequent in women who are pregnant or taking oral contraceptives.
Because of Beta-Carotene's distinct orange color, it's used in some cosmetic and skin products as a coloring agent. In sun tanning products, the orange pigment gives a sun-kissed glow to the skin without tanning. It has the added benefit of offering additional sun protection when combined with other sunscreen ingredients. Beta-Carotene is also used to add color to some cosmetics like eye shadow, lipstick and blush. Manufacturers of natural" cosmetics often use Beta-Carotene to replace synthetic coloring agents. This orange coloration can pose a challenge to cosmetic makers that want the benefits of Beta-Carotene but don't want their skin care products to have an orange hue.
Is it safe? Topical Beta-Carotene appears to be safe in the quantities found in skin care products and cosmetics. The Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Cosmetics Database classifies it as a low hazard cosmetic ingredient. The FDA classifies it as ""generally recognized as safe."" There are some concerns about taking Beta-Carotene as an oral supplement after one study showed that smokers who took it had a higher risk of developing lung cancer