What are free radicals? How do they damage the skin and body? How do antioxidants help defend the skin from free radical damage? And what are the best ways to keep up your antioxidant levels when it comes to skincare?
On the beauty front, free radical damage is one of the main culprits responsible for the ageing of our skin. It causes deterioration of our skin’s structural support system, decreasing the suppleness and elasticity of collagen fibers (a wonderful network of proteins in our skin that helps us avoid resembling a raisin) causing them to become dry and shrivelled – all leading to wrinkles and premature ageing well before our time. Luckily another molecule can safely terminate these rampant free-radicals, effectively preventing and slowing ageing in its tracks. You’ve probably heard of it before, it’s a total buzzword (think dark chocolate, blueberries, and red wine) and their powers are documented far and wide – welcome to the wonderful world of antioxidants. Before we go into more detail we’ll recap exactly what free-radicals are so you can better understand why these super star nutrients are so wonderful.
To understand free-radicals and their (not so friendly) relationship with antioxidants we need to go over a little chemistry 101 – on an atomic level, atoms and molecules in the body contain electrons and electrons like to exist in pairs; this keeps them feeling stable and safe. During chemical reactions atoms and molecules may lose electrons, making them extremely unstable and highly reactive – these are known as free radicals. These electron-deprived molecules don’t like being in this state, so to make up for it they travel around the body on the hunt for another electron to steal so they can become stable again, and in doing so set off a chain reaction of damage, like a domino effect, to cells and tissues within the body. As one electron is stolen from one molecule, the once stable molecule becomes unstable and goes on the hunt for another electron, and this chain reaction, summarily called free-radical damage, continues.
Although free-radicals are a natural by-product of life, many modern-day culprits increase free-radical production within our body including pollution, sunlight, stress, high-intensity exercise and exhaust fumes. This is where antioxidants take a starring role, making it crucial for skin health to ensure we’re taking in a good deal of these nutrients both internally and topically on our skin’s surface. Going back to our earlier explanation on free-radicals (biochemistry hats back on), antioxidants are molecules that work by donating their own electrons to free-radicals, which quickly pair up with single electrons on free-radicals and in doing so transform them from unstable reactive atoms/molecules to stable ones. This is ideal as it effectively stops the chain reaction of damage in its tracks, as once their electrons become paired they are happy little molecules once again - pretty neat huh?
Luckily for us, antioxidants are abundant in colourful plant foods and ensuring we take in a good deal with our diet is vital for both good health and good skin. Variety is key as different plants contain different types of antioxidants, which is why eating a rainbow of fruits and veggies each day is so commonly recommended. In regards to skincare, there are ingredients with antioxidant activity that can help further protect your skin against free-radical damage, such as the potent antioxidant vitamin C, which does a great job at enhancing skin repair and reducing wrinkles, vitamin E which helps assist maintaining the skins suppleness and in helping it maintain a youthful look, and vitamin A which is wonderfully anti-aging for the skin, helping to reduce wrinkles and signs of ageing, and in giving the skin an overall healthy glow.