It’s more powerful than vitamins E and C and it can help to repair skin from within. Here’s the deal on the world’s most potent antioxidant
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.
MORE GLOSS: The best tan enhancers to boost your glow
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."
7 astaxanthin supplements to get your skin-boosting fix
Higher Nature Aeterna Gold Astaxanthin Capsules, £18 for 30 capsules
These capsules combine 4mg of astaxanthin with olive oil which allows for enhanced absorption. In studies by the Higher Nature people who took these supplements for six weeks noticed a 15 per cent decrease in moisture loss and a five per cent increase in skin elasticity around crow's feet.
Ingenious Beauty Ultimate Collagen+, £54.99 for 90 capsules
These supplements are a favourite of celebrities such as Lisa Snowdon and Tamsin Outhwaite and are made from natural grade astaxanthin at a dose of 4mg. It's combined with two other big hitters: collagen and hyaluronic acid so and is clinically proven to reduce fine lines up to 85 per cent.
Equi London Beauty Oil Edition, £35 for 60 capsules
These glow-givers are made of 100 per cent omega-three rich red krill oil, so you're getting your astaxanthin straight from a natural source (krill derive their colour from astaxanthin) for an anti-inflammatory effect that brightens and hydrates the skin, alongside 100mcg of astaxanthin.
Rejuvenated H3O Night Repair , £30 for 30 capsules
These bedtime supplements provide cellular hydration from within delivering antioxidant free-radical fighting effects as you snooze. They combine hyaluronic acid with 3a whopping 30mg astaxanthin (along with ionic minerals such as potassium chloride, magnesium chloride and sodium citrate to help with cellular metabolism which speeds up how quickly your cells get rid of waste.
Solgar Astaxanthin, £15.99
This brings affordable high-antioxidant clout to the table from one of the most trusted and well-known vitamin companies among the nutritional community. It has 5mg of astaxanthin combined with sunflower seed oil and nothing else.
Gold Collagen Defence, £15 for 30 capsules
These tablets combine astaxanthin with zinc , vitamin A, E and B6 and hyaluronic acid . They contain 0.5 mg of astaxanthin per pill.
Green People Age Defy+ Green Beauty with Astaxanthin, £34 for 60 capsules
These contain 2mg of astaxanthin per capsule along with chlorella to aid detoxification and green friends wheatgrass with spirulina, barley grass and sea greens.
Esthechoc Cambridge Beauty Chocolate, £21.76 for a 21-day supply
Alternatively...shun the greens and tuck into an astaxanthin-rich chocolate bar. One bar contains 4mg of astaxanthin along with vitamin A and iron .
Follow Suzie on Twitter @nutritionsuzie