By Andrea Pyka
Contributing Writer

Tomatoes are more than just a topping for your salad or a garnish for your burger. In fact, a recent study from Newcastle University and the University of Manchester shows that tomatoes can help protect your skin from potential sun damage.

Mark Birch-Machin, professor of molecular dermatology at Newcastle University, led a group of scientists to research the effects that tomatoes cause to the skin.

As part of the study, researchers examined a group of 20 volunteers whose skin was exposed to ultraviolet (UV) light, which is naturally found in sunlight. According to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), half of the volunteers were given daily 55-gram doses (five tablespoons) of tomato paste mixed with olive oil over a 12-week period, while the other half only received olive oil.

The BBC news report revealed that the skin from those who ate daily servings of the tomato paste was 33 percent more effective at protecting against the sun’s harmful UV rays. In addition, the skin of the test group members had higher levels of procollagen, a protein that gives skin its elasticity, than the skin of the control group members.

Birch-Machin explained that tomatoes contain a powerful antioxidant called lycopene, which helps destroy harmful molecules including free radicals that damage cells and DNA found in skin.

“[Tomatoes prevent] damage to mitochondria, which are the batteries of our cells [that] help skin health and also helps prevent sunburn,” Birch-Machin wrote in an e-mail to City on a Hill Press.

According to the American Dietetic Association (ADA), lycopene is a bright red pigment found in many red fruits and vegetables, but is especially dominant in cooked tomatoes. Cooking tomatoes helps release the lycopene, which is then absorbed much more easily into the body when consumed.

To get an idea of the amount of lycopene that is contained in some common tomato products, the ADA revealed that one cup of pure tomato soup has 24.8 milligrams of lycopene.

To help protect your skin from sun damage, Birch-Machin suggests eating four to five tablespoons of processed tomatoes daily, which is the equivalent of wearing sunscreen with a 1.3 sun protection factor (SPF). However, he added that eating tomatoes should in no way replace daily sunscreen wear.

While Birch-Machin said that some fruits such as guava and pink grapefruit also contain similar UV-fighting components, he stresses the importance of protecting skin from early sun-induced skin aging or skin cancer by avoiding the midday sun and wearing clothes that shade the sun’s rays.

_For breaking health and science-related news, read CHP’s “Did you know?” section for a look into little-known and interesting facts about the health and science world._