We've all heard of collagen supplements being key to maintaining a healthy, plump complexion but the beauty world is abuzz with talk of another, lesser-known skin-supporting supplement called astaxanthin. Pronounced 'asta-zan-thin', it is an anti-inflammatory antioxidant that helps keep skin hydrated, bouncy and dewy, essential for preventing premature signs of ageing and helping see off wrinkle formation.
So what is astaxanthin? It's is a pink microalgae that is feasted on by salmon, shrimp, prawns, trout and krill and even flamingos and which gives them all their reddish-pink hue.
What is astaxanthin good for?
It's a question many of us are asking right now as searches have risen by 500 per cent in the last year, while searches for 'astaxanthin supplements' are up 140 per cent. Broadcaster Lisa Snowdon and actress Tamzin Outhwaite are among many high profile fans of astaxanthin supplement Ingenious Beauty £54.99, which also features encapsulated collagen and hyaluronic acid and has strong clinical trials to show that fine lines are reduced up to 85 per cent.
Why is astaxanthin having a moment?
Nutritional therapist and founder of Equi London supplements Alice Mackintosh explains: "Astaxanthin is a type of antioxidant called a carotenoid. It is dark red in colour and it is one of the most potent antioxidants found in nature," she says.
"Astaxanthin is fat-soluble meaning that it can dissolve into our fatty cell membranes, helping to rejuvenate skin, reduce cell damage and inflammation as well as protecting again UV induced pigmentation. It may also help to inhibit collagenases, which are the enzymes that can encourage collagen breakdown, something we want to encourage on our quest to reduce signs of ageing naturally. This is why it is considered to be one of the best antioxidants for our skin."
It is thought to be 550 times more potent than vitamin E for antioxidant power, according to Green People who include astaxanthin in the Age Defy+ Green Beauty with Astaxanthin supplement, £34 for 60.
Antioxidants help protect against free radical damage to the skin, of which the primary culprit is the sun. Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer explains: "Astaxanthin can help to protect the skin throughout the dermal layers from the free radical damage that's partly responsible for the skin ageing process. In addition, astaxanthin helps to protect the skin from the sun’s damaging UV rays, plus it improves the elasticity of the skin by aiding healthy skin cell function."
How does astaxanthin provide UV protection? "In nature, carotenoids protect plants from UV light and free radical damage," explains Corin Sadler, nutritional therapist for supplement brand Higher Nature. "Astaxanthin provides natural protection to the algae and its photoprotective effects can be harnessed for the skin."
Alice adds: "A study in 2018 a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial also found that it can help with UV induced skin deterioration, or sun damage, possibly because of its powerful antioxidant activity. Further research has also shown it may help with the management of inflammatory conditions."
It's not only vitamin E that astaxanthin knocks out of the park in terms of antioxidants; it's also around 40 times more powerful than beta-carotene and is around 6000 times more effective at mopping up free radicals than vitamin C , as shown in clinical studies carried out by Dr Debasis Bagchi at Creighton University in the US.
Can astaxanthin help you tan?
One of the most searched for phrases around astaxanthin is 'astaxanthin tan' and indeed you can find the ingredient in tanning brand Utan's Tan Gummies, £17.99 for 60 gummies, which have 1mg astaxanthin (see below for recommended dose). Does astaxanthin promote a tan in a similar way to its carotenoid sibling beta carotene, found in carrots, which gives a brownish tint to the skin from within? Sadly not. "Astaxanthin does not noticeably change your skin’s colour taken at the suggested doses (four mg per day) and it does not deepen your tan despite being used in some tanning supplements," says pharmacist and co-founder of Victoria Health Shabir Daya.
What to look for in an astaxanthin supplement
While you can find astaxanthin in skincare, including in Oskia's City Life Anti-Pollution I-Zone Balm , £48, you'll have the most bang for your buck from supplements.
"The skin can only absorb a certain amount of any skincare product and it may not necessarily penetrate down to the deeper layers," says Suzie. "As an antioxidant, astaxanthin has currently proved most powerful when ingested as opposed to applied topically."
Supplementing astaxanthin is key as it's tricky to consume enough through diet alone. You'd have to eat approximately two pounds of wild salmon daily to get how much you need, according to Shabir.
Look for wild salmon with the deepest pink hue such as sockeye. Farmed won't cut it. "Wild salmon provides some astaxanthin because it feeds on the algae that naturally lives and grows in open waters [and creates astaxanthin]," says Suzie. "However, farmed fish generally does not provide any, unless it’s fed astaxanthin, but this would be in a synthetic form which cannot be utilised in the body in the same way as the natural source. Depleted fish stocks mean that very little is now obtained from the diet."
Astaxanthin also helps post-workout recovery and eyesight
As an anti-inflammatory, astaxanthin is an effective supplement to take after exercise as it aids post-workout recovery . "Astaxanthin's potent antioxidant power ensures that it’s highly beneficial during and after exercise," confirms Suzie. "The quenching of free radicals helps to prevent inflammation and muscle damage during exercise and astaxanthin also has a positive effect during endurance exercise."
In addition, astaxanthin helps to re-focus tired eyes resulting from overexposure to computer screens (key, right now!) as well as improving capillary blood flow and protecting the eyes from sun damage, Suzie tells us.
How much astaxanthin should you take?
There is no recommended dose of astaxanthin because it's not a vitamin or mineral that is essential to the body, but there is a suggested dosage which is 4mg per day, according to Shabir Daya. "Some manufacturers feel that higher strengths might prove to be useful but there is no evidence to confirm this. Astaxanthin is generally considered safe at dosages of up to 40mg a day," he says.
Look for natural astaxanthin, says Suzie. "The natural form is fat-soluble and has a chemical structure that is much more readily absorbed by the body. Astaxanthin is, therefore, best taken with a meal, preferably one containing some fat."
How long does it take to see a difference?
"As with any supplement, the degree to which you'd notice an effect really depends on the nutrient status of the individual at the time. However, research on astaxanthin suggests that positive effects are seen and felt within about four weeks," says Suzie.
Octavia Coates who runs her own PR agency and looks after supplement brand Higher Nature, which makes the Aeterna Gold Astaxanthin Capsule (see below) has been taking them in conjunction with a collagen supplement for more than a year and after three months of popping the pills, noticed a healthy glow and not just on her face, but over her entire body, she says.
Can you take astaxanthin in pregnancy?
"As with any supplement, pregnant and breastfeeding women should only take supplements that are recommended during this time," cautions Suzie. "Otherwise, there are currently no known contraindications to taking astaxanthin.
That said, if you're taking any prescription medication, always check with your GP before considering supplementation."