As the largest organ, our skin acts as a barrier to protect us from pathogens, regulate our body temperature, retain moisture, and sense the world around us. Supplements for supporting healthy skin range from collagen to vitamin E to fatty acids like omega-3 and 6’s. However, one of the most effective supplements for skin may actually come from a more unfamiliar source.
The Astaxanthin vitamin is a type of potent antioxidant found in microalgae and consumed by marine animals like salmon, shrimp, and krill. It is the carotenoid pigment responsible for their pinkish red coloring and provides aquatic life a plethora of protective effects. The benefits of natural astaxanthin that’s found in red algae have been studied to extend beyond the ocean and can actually positively affect human health. Research even suggests astaxanthin is nearly 6,000 times more potent than vitamin C and five times stronger than other beta-carotenes. This study on vitamin C and astaxanthin just goes to show how beneficial this skincare ingredient can really be. 1
So, is astaxanthin good for your skin? As a powerful antioxidant, natural astaxanthin works to fight off free radicals. These unstable molecules are byproducts of the biological process known as oxidative stress. Oxidative stress occurs when free radicals in the body outnumber antioxidants and a chronic unbalance can wreak havoc inside the body. Chronic oxidative stress has been linked to a multitude of diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, heart disease, along with inflammation, and DNA damage. 2 However, antioxidant molecules neutralize free radicals and prevent their deleterious effects. Our body’s produce some antioxidants naturally but eating a diet rich in antioxidants is a great way to increase these beneficial effects.
Astaxanthin has a diverse range of functions in the body, one of which is it’s specialized ability to protect and repair skin. There is also a positive correlation between astaxanthin and eye health as well. Much of skin damage is due to the buildup of free radicals caused by environmental factors like sun exposure but are also natural results of aging. Astaxanthin’s photoreceptive, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties all play a role in improving skin health and vitality. 3 Here are a few specific ways astaxanthin supplementation has been proven to benefit our skin.
#1 Protect against UV-Light
Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is a major contributor to skin destruction. Prolonged exposure to UV rays can cause premature aging and skin cancer. UV light from the sun generates reactive oxygen species (ROS) which are products of chronic oxidative stress. Astaxanthin is a fat-soluble antioxidant meaning it can penetrate deep into our cell membranes and intercept ROS accumulation in the skin’s layers. 4 The outer epidermal layer and the inner dermal layer are the sites of free radical buildup after sun exposure. Within these layers the uncontrolled radicals can result in protein and DNA damage, degrading our skin cells. Certain enzymes known as MMP’s are synthesized with UV radiation and are responsible for breaking down collagen and elastin in our dermal layers. 3 These proteins are necessary for maintaining the structural integrity of our skin and their deterioration can cause signs of premature aging. Astaxanthin appears to effectively suppress the generation of these MMPs protecting our skin from protein degradation.
Astaxanthin’s ability to protect against UV rays is also likely due to it’s specialized free radical scavenging activity. Compared to other carotenoids, astaxanthin has shown to be much more effective at scavenging for singlet oxygen in both the dermis and epidermis of the skin. In animal models, these effects have shown to prevent photo-aging and burn-wound progression. 5 Research in human studies has supported these effects finding astaxanthin can delay UV-induced skin damage. Astaxanthin’s anti-inflammatory properties are also thought to play into its skin protective qualities. This is all very important especially when considering skin cancer, the most prevalent cancer in today’s society. We know limiting exposure to UV rays is one of the best ways to prevent skin cancer. 6 Therefore, along with practicing preventative behaviors like sunscreen application and reducing sun exposure, astaxanthin supplementation can be a great addition to your skin ritual.
#2 Retains Moisture
Many of us deal with trials and tribulations of dry skin. Factors such as cold or low humidity climates and age can impact our skin’s ability to retain moisture. However, a high UV index can also decrease your skin’s moisture content. 7 The oxidative stress caused by UV-light can turn off enzymes responsible for retaining moisture in the skin. On the epidermis, the top layer contains dead skin cells responsible for absorbing and trapping water. 7 Certain enzymes enable these cells to carry out their moisture locking capabilities, and oxidative stress interferes with this mechanism.
Just as astaxanthin protects skin from UV-light exposure through its powerful antioxidant properties, it has also been observed to improve moisture content. Numerous studies promote the findings that astaxanthin’s ability to scavenge ROS and other free radicals within the skin allow cells to better conserve moisture. In one 10-week trial, researchers found a daily 4mg supplement of astaxanthin reduced UV-induced decrease of moisture in healthy adults. 5 Another study found both a daily oral and topical astaxanthin supplement improved moisture and sebum oil content in the cheek zone after eight weeks. 8
#3 Improves Wrinkles and Texture
Wrinkling and uneven texture are both attributes that increase with age. Our body’s naturally produce less collagen and elastin as we grow older, so strengthening our skin cells early on can aid in this decreased production. Furthermore, oxidative stress has been studied to advance all types of skin aging including wrinkles and uneven texture. The ROS molecules generated in our epidermis and dermis can lead to the degradation of proteins like collagen and elastin which are essential for maintaining young, radiant skin. 3 Wrinkles and texture develop through a combination of the natural decrease in structural proteins over time coupled with the accelerated damage UV-light exposure causes to the extracellular matrix.
Astaxanthin skin benefits with regards to wrinkle reduction and improved texture are due to the antioxidant’s protection of essential enzymes and DNA to produce collagen and other structural proteins. 3 In the same study that found skin’s moisture content improved with daily topical and oral astaxanthin supplementation, participant’s face wrinkles were studied as well. The study found the astaxanthin group in both men and women experienced significant improvements in skin wrinkling along with uneven texture after eight weeks. 8 The skin improvements were thought to be due to increased collagen fiber recovery at the dermis layer. Other human studies report very similar findings, observing wrinkle reduction in both men and women after repeated topical or oral astaxanthin supplementation. 3
#4 Enhance Wound Healing
Our body’s wound healing process is a complex, multi-step biological mechanism which temporarily increases oxidative stress and inflammation to mend broken tissue. In this sense, oxidative stress is actually a beneficial function in stimulating the body’s ability to repair wounds. The generation of ROS after injury helps prevent infection, increase inflammation, and new cell proliferation. 9 However, this temporary increase in oxidative stress must be mediated to ensure it does not become a prolonged process. If there is an imbalance and your body’s oxidative stress response outweighs the potent antioxidant restraints, it will have an opposite effect on wound healing, delaying the process or resulting in chronic unhealed wounds. 9
To help accelerate the wound healing process, antioxidants like astaxanthin have shown promising effects. Because astaxanthin has exceeded the effects of antioxidants such as vitamin A and E, it is viewed by researchers as a strong candidate for repair mechanisms. 9 In mice models, topical astaxanthin was seen to show noticeable improvement in the duration and markers of wound healing through the reduction of oxidative stress. 9 Another study on mice showed significant protection against burn wound progression after repeated astaxanthin supplementation, supporting the findings that the antioxidant may accelerate healing and increase collagen and other growth factors. 3
#5 Protects against hyperpigmentation
Hyperpigmentation is a result of increased melanin production at certain spots on the skin. 10 There are multiple different types of hyperpigmentation, the most common being melasma, sunspots, and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. Numerous factors can increase an individual’s risk of developing hyperpigmentation such as certain medications, prolonged sun exposure, and acne scarring. Excess melanin production is not inherently dangerous however, if the damage is extensive enough, hyperpigmentation may be a sign of a more serious condition. 10 In studies, astaxanthin has been shown to decrease the appearance of sunspots likely due to its inhibitory effect on melanin synthesis. Astaxanthin’s benefits against UV-exposure may also protect the skin from developing hyperpigmentation.
Astaxanthin is a powerful antioxidant shown to have a range of protective health benefits. Astaxanthin and skin health have been studied to be more effective than to other antioxidants such as vitamin C, E or beta-carotene. The carotenoid has been shown to repair sun-damage, decrease the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, promote hydrated skin, aid in wound healing and more. 3 Daily astaxanthin supplementation, like that found in GEM vitamins, is a great way to increase your antioxidant intake and help protect your skin.
1 Darcy McDonough, Astaxanthin: 4 Health Benefits Of This Healthy Aging Antioxidant” - MBG, 8 January 2020, https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/astaxanthin-benefits
2 Stacy Sampson, “How does oxidative stress affect the body”, Medical News Today, 3 April 2019, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324863
3 Sergio Davinelli, Michael E. Nielsen, and Giovanni Scapagnini, “Astaxanthin in Skin Health, Repair, and Disease: A Comprehensive Review”, Nutrients (MPDI, 22 April, 2018), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5946307/
4 Parris Kidd, “Astaxanthin cell membrane nutrient with diverse clinical benefits and anti-aging potential” Alternative Medicine Review, 16 December 2011, http://archive.foundationalmedicinereview.com/publications/16/4/355.pdf
5 Naoki Ito, Shinobu Seki, and Fumitaka Ueda, “The Protective Role of Astaxanthin for UV-Induced Skin Deterioration in Healthy People - A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial”, Nutrients (MPDI, 25 June, 2018), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6073124/
6 “What are the Risk Factors for Skin Cancer?” - CDC, accessed 22 March, 2021, https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/basic_info/risk_factors.htm
7 Susan L. Nasr, “What causes skin moisture loss?” - howstuffworks, accessed 22 March 2021, https://health.howstuffworks.com/skin-care/moisturizing/basics/skin-moisture-loss.htm#pt3
8 Kumi Tominga, “Cosmetic benefits of astaxanthin on humans subjects” Acta Biochimica Polonica (U.S. National Library of Medicine, March 2012), https://ojs.ptbioch.edu.pl/index.php/abp/article/view/2168/804
9 Jitlada Meephansan et al., “Effect of astaxanthin on cutaneous wound healing.” Clinical, cosmetic and investigational dermatology, (U.S. National Library of Medicine, July 2017), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5516620/
10 MaryAnn De Pietro, “What You Should Know About Hyperpigmentation”, - Healthline, September 30, 2019, https://www.healthline.com/health/hyperpigmentation#prevention