Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Carotenoids are tetraterpenoids, which are a large and varied class of hydrocarbons produced by plants, particularly conifers (wow, that sounded text-booky, eh?) They are either carotenes (oil soluble) or xanthophylls (more polar, water soluble with oxygen functional groups) with 40 carbon atoms.

I'll be going into more detail about terpenes and terpenoids in the near future, so let's just say for now they are the primary constituents of of essential oils, the major building blocks for every living thing in the form of steroids (which are derivatives of squalene), and are closely related to phytosterols and Vitamin E. I'll also go more into xanthophylls when we get to the posts on extracts.

There are three major groups of carotenes - lycopene, lutein, and ß-carotene - but we find ß-carotene mostly in the oils and other ingredients we use. ß-carotene is oil soluble, and is the pre-cursor to Vitamin A. The body will convert ß-carotene into Vitamin A if it needs it: If it doesn't need it, then it just roams around as an anti-oxidant, free radical scavenging and preventing lipid peroxidation in our bodies and on our skin.

Carotenes are strong anti-oxidants. They either quench the anti-oxidizing process or chemically react with free radicals to form a carotenoid radical.

Carotenes have been shown to have photo-protective effects when we're exposed to the sun. Studies have shown a reduction in thiobarbituric acid (shows up when we're in the sun!) if our skin is pre-treated with creams including ß-carotene! Lycopene is the strongest in the carotenoid photo-protective sweepstakes, with lutein and ß-carotene less effective.

So what do carotenes offer to bath and body products? The pre-Vitamin A stuff is pretty awesome, considering Vitamin A has such a great effect on our skin, and this is one of the main reasons to seek out carotenes!

It also helps protect from UVB damage and behaves as an anti-oxidant to retard rancidity! The one down side? The strong colour from ß-carotene containing oils might your products a little on the yellow or orange side.

Where can we find these wonderful tetraterpenoids? You can find it in cranberry oil, rosehip oil, wheat germ oil (which also contains xanthophylls, which have many of the same qualities as the carotenes), calendula oil, and sea buckthorn oil.

Join me tomorrow for something fun!

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