Eating plenty of tomatoes could stave off wrinkles - and even skin cancer, say scientists.
The fruit is rich in an antioxidant called lycopene that helps shield the body from harmful UV radiation.

A study says it isn't a substitute for sunscreen but offers another important line of defence.

The German researchers said it could lead to people taking supplements containing the chemical for health - or cosmetic - purposes.

They also found another pigment known as lutein - abundant in spinach and kale - achieved 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.

While you shouldn't give up on sun screen doctors have said this juicy fruit should be part of your overall diet for better looking skin.

Professor Jean Krutmann, of Leibniz Research Institute for Environmental Medicine in Dusseldorf, said: "There is growing evidence that dietary intervention can protect human skin against detrimental effects caused by solar ultraviolet (UV) radiation.

"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."

He said "oral supplementation with lycopene-rich TNC and with lutein may be efficient" in blocking sun damage - helping to prevent wrinkles and skin cancer.

Prof Krutmann said: "Our study further supports the concept dietary strategies are beneficial for human skin in general and nutritional supplements of the exact kind used in this study are very effective in providing protection against UVA radiation-induced skin damage in particular."

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 per cent 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.

Matthew Gass, of the British Association of Dermatologists, said: "Eating tomatoes and kale isn't a substitute for sunscreen or other forms of sun protection such as protective clothing and shade.

"However this study shows these lycopene and lutein supplements could be an extra tool to protect against sun damage."

The study is published in the British Journal of Dermatology.