Antioxidants and You
Free radicals are the unstable byproducts of oxidation, the metabolic process of oxygen metabolism. This is the same process that causes iron to rust and bananas and avocados to turn brown. These free radicals cause oxidative stress by way of cellular damage, making cells vulnerable to decay and pathogens. They damage DNA and mitochondria (part of the basic building blocks for all tissues) which can result in many health problems. Once formed, these highly reactive radicals can start a chain reaction, like dominoes.
Lifestyle choices and environmental factors can drastically increase the number of free radicals in the body, in turn dramatically increasing oxidative stress on the body. Things like eating fried foods, environmental pollution, UV rays, and eating charcoal broiled meats will increase this oxidative stress, but cigarette smoking is, by far, the most potent free radical generator in the body.
What Does Free Radical Damage Look Like to My Skin?
Free radicals have a negative effect all across the board to all body systems. For our skin, which is the largest human organ, damage can be seen in multiple forms. You may notice a change in skin color that might be the result of brown spots or broken blood vessels. Free radicals also cause damage to the elastic collagen fibers of the skin, weakening it and making it appear loose and saggy, or wrinkled.
Can They Be Stopped?
The body has a defense mechanism called antioxidants. These are molecules that can safely interact with free radicals to stop the chain reaction before any more molecules are damaged, effectively neutralizing them. There are several enzyme systems within the body that scavenge free radicals.
The principle micronutrient antioxidants are vitamins like A (retinol), E, beta-carotene, and vitamin C. Sometimes selenium, a trace metal required for proper functioning of one of the body's antioxidant enzyme systems, is sometimes included in that list. The body can't manufacture these micronutrients so they must be supplied in the diet. Eating a diet rich in a variety of fruits and vegetables is the best way to maintain healthy doses of those important vitamins and minerals, as not all supplements are standardized. How well they work or side effects may be different from brand to brand and even within different lots of the same brand.
How About In My Skin Care Products?
Beauty companies are harnessing the benefits of antioxidants in their products, as well as adding in additional antioxidant-rich botanicals like green tea, pomegranates, grape seeds, and more. "The use of topical antioxidants is gaining favour," says Dr. Patricia Farris, a leading dermatologist based in Louisiana who lectures widely on antioxidants and also consults with the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries on their use. "More and more scientific studies are proving their effectiveness, not only in helping to reduce wrinkles and aging but also reducing inflammation, such as in rosacea, or even helping prevent skin cancer."
Many studies and reviews confirming the ability of antioxidants to be absorbed into skin cells have appeared in medical journals. "Now we know they can be absorbed into the cells of the stratum corneum [the topmost layer of skin] and that is where they neutralize free radicals," Farris says.
What Can They Do For Your Skin?
Free radicals can accelerate the natural aging process, which slows the production of collagen and elastin, allowing gravity to take over resulting in saggy skin, wrinkles, and fine lines.Skin care products containing antioxidants can help to protect against the free radicals' damage by boosting collagen and elastin production, slowing this process. Antioxidants can't reverse damage that doesn't occur as a result of free radicals on the skin.
Antioxidants in skin care products, especially vitamin C, are shown to be beneficial in reducing the appearance of age spots (solar lentigines). While harmless, these spots may seem unsightly to some. They occur when sun exposure speeds up melanin (a skin pigment) production in the body. As time goes on, this melanin becomes clumped together, resulting in age spots.
Most people have heard of retinol or retinoid in reference to good skin care, but not many know why it's so celebrated. Retinol is actually referring to vitamin A, a very powerful antioxidant. It goes deep into the pores to remove keratin plugs, one of the main causes of acne and blackheads, according to DERMADoctor.com. It also help to reduce the level of oil in the pores. Retinol is a mainstay in effective acne treatment.
What Products Are Best?
It's a matter of finding the concentration that works for you. Some products provide them in concentrations that are unlikely to be effective, yet concentrations that are too high may provoke skin irritation. According to Farris, there is an optimal concentration level for each antioxidant. Your best bet is to find a product that works best for your skin type and gives you the results you're looking for without causing skin problems.
Look for products that contain antioxidant-rich botanicals like green tea extract and pomegranate seed extract, and vitamins like vitamins A, E, and C.