The ABC’s of Supplementing Your Skin: A is for Astaxanthin

Have you ever wondered if there’s a secret to strong and healthy hair, skin and nails?

While there’s no secret formula or magic potion, we can tell you about a few active ingredients that play a key part in supporting healthy hair, skin and nails. This blog post is the first of a three part series where we’ll discuss a few of these ingredients, their roles and their benefits.

So let’s start learning our ABC’s of skin supplementation! First up:  A is for Astaxanthin.

What is Astaxanthin?

Astaxanthin is a fun word to use in a sentence when you are trying to impress a friend, but the ingredient also has some amazing qualities and benefits.

Astaxanthin (pronounced asta-zan-thin) is a carotenoid and holds the crown for being one of the most powerful antioxidants found in nature. A carotenoid is a fat-soluble pigment that is a part of a class of phytonutrients (“nutrients from plants”) synthesized by plants, algae, and photosynthetic bacteria.  These richly colored pigment molecules give many fruit and vegetables their red, orange, and yellow hues. Carotenoids also have important antioxidant properties that help protect our bodies from potentially damaging compounds the result from metabolism.

How is Astaxanthin produced?

Over the last several years, astaxanthin has gained popularity and become known as one of the most powerful and studied carotenoids.  Did you know that the richest known natural source of astaxanthin is actually from a subgroup of microalgae? Astaxanthin is produced when microalgae become stressed; they alter their hue from a normal green color to a reddish-orange color.  Some species of marine algae produce astaxanthin to protect themselves from the effects of losing their nutrient supply and to stay alive.3 Once stressed, the astaxanthin from these microalgae can be extracted for use in dietary supplements.

Astaxanthin is also found in animals that consume microalgae for food.  Astaxanthin is the source of the red-pink color found in krill, salmon, shellfish and even flamingos. Speaking of salmon, have you ever heard about their ability to swim upstream? Astaxanthin is also thought to play a key role driving the endurance it takes for salmon to swim against the current.

What are antioxidants?

We mentioned earlier that antioxidants can help protect our bodies from harm. More specifically, antioxidants help protect the body from damage caused by harmful levels of molecules called reactive oxygen species (ROS).  ROS are produced as a normal by-product of cellular metabolism, which happens in mitochondria of cells.  The mitochondria are tiny machinery inside of cells responsible for creating energy molecules that fuel the body.  Antioxidants include some vitamins (such as Vitamin C and Vitamin E), some minerals (such as selenium), flavonoids, and carotenoids.  One dietary source of antioxidants is fruits and vegetables, but they are also found in teas and red wine.

How does astaxanthin compare to other antioxidants?

Although all antioxidants are able to help neutralize ROS in the body, astaxanthin possesses several properties that make it more effective than other antioxidants.  One of astaxanthin’s most unique characteristics is its ability to protect both water- and fat-soluble parts of the cell (scientifically, we call this amphiphilic.)  Carotenoids usually fall into two categories, water-soluble or fat-soluble, but astaxanthin belongs to both sub-groups, which means it is able to function in both water and fat.  Astaxanthin has been shown to be thousands of times stronger and more powerful than Vitamin C in terms of antioxidant properties.

In addition, another amazing feature of astaxanthin is that it remains active longer than other antioxidants. Remember how we said that antioxidants protect our bodies from harmful molecules like ROS? Most antioxidants can only remove one ROS at a time, but astaxanthin has been observed in some cases to remove multiple molecules at the same time!

How can astaxanthin support skin health?

Astaxanthin helps support the ability of skin cells to manage oxidative stress, which occurs when our bodies produce high levels of potentially harmful molecules.  It also offers a multitude of benefits for the skin, including the ability to help the body manage our exposure to the sun.1,2  When combined with other antioxidants like tocopherol and phytaminol, astaxanthin has synergistic effects in the body.  Unique combinations of antioxidants like this may help maintain healthy levels of collagen and elastin found in skin tissue. Numerous studies have shown that the antioxidant properties of astaxanthin help improve skin elasticity and hydration levels.3


1) Komatsu, T et al. Preventive effect of dietary astaxanthin on UVA-induced photoaging in hairless mice. PLoS One. 2017; 12(2): e0171178.

2) Camera E., et al. Astaxanthin, canthaxanthin and beta-carotene differently affect UVA-induced oxidative damage and expression of oxidative stress-responsive enzymes. Exp. Dermatol. 2009;18:222–231

3) Tominaga, K et al. Protective effects of astaxanthin on skin deterioration. J Clin Biochem Nutr. 2017 Jul; 61(1): 33-39.