Beta-carotene is a provitamin A carotenoid, one of two sources of vitamin A. Vitamin A is not only important to your overall health and immunity, but also to the integrity of your organs, including your skin. In the body, beta-carotene converts to retinol and other forms of vitamin A. Retinols work actively within the body and have been used in topical skin treatments since the 1970s.
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Vitamin A was the first retinol to be used in the therapeutic treatment for skin disorders, according to the editors of "Pediatric Dermatology." Cosmetic companies use various forms of topical retinols to improve tone and elasticity of the skin. Beta-carotene in creams and lotions may provide similar benefit. Topical application of beta-carotene not only penetrates into the skin, but also results in an increase of retinyl esters -- a form of vitamin A in which retinol is stored, according to researchers of a 2004 study in the “Experimental Dermatology Journal.” Beta-carotene lotion applied daily for up to 24 days can sufficiently fade and reduce melasma, a condition marked by discoloration of the skin, according to the authors of a 2003 study published in “Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology and Leprology.”
Beta-carotene is considered a provitamin because it converts to an active form of vitamin A called retinol, an essential nutrient that can benefit the skin. Human skin is susceptible to injury, disease and sun exposure that can accelerate aging. Vitamin A can help in wound healing and skin cell turnover for healthier, glowing skin by enhancing immunity, strengthening tissue and moderating skin renewal. A well-regulated system of vitamin A storage, release and activation keeps these functions in check.
Dietary intake of carotenoids, including beta-carotene, has been shown to be beneficial to the skin. As skin is exposed to sunlight, the lipids, or fats, found within its layers are vulnerable to oxidation. This accelerates sagging and wrinkle formation. Carotenoids help delay the effects of sun-induced aging by slowing down the effects of skin breakdown, according to a 2011 review in the “Journal of Clinical Biochemical Nutrition”.
Because the body converts provitamin A carotenoids to vitamin A retinols, intake recommendations are expressed in retinol activity equivalents, or RAE. The recommended daily allowance for vitamin A is 700 micrograms RAE for females, age 14 to 51 and 900 micrograms RAE for males age 14 to 51. Because vitamin A is fat-soluble, it can build up in the body if you take too much. Check with your doctor before supplementing. Ideally, you should eat a diet rich in beta-carotene; it is a safe and effective way to get the benefit of vitamin A without the potential toxicity.
There are two ways to obtain vitamin A in the diet. One is is through animal products containing pre-formed vitamin A -- retinol and its retinyl ester form. These include meats, fish, liver, eggs and milk. The other is through plant foods rich in provitamin A carotenoids, most notably beta-carotene. Beta-carotene can be found in a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables. Most notable for their pigment, foods high in beta-carotene include carrots, beets, bell peppers, squash, blueberries, spinach, apricots and sweet potato. Just 1/4 cup of boiled spinach, 1/2 cup of bell peppers, and 1/2 cup of carrots in a day can safely meet the RDA for vitamin A.