Hype about free radicals and antioxidants has been at the forefront of the skincare industry for years, popping up everywhere from supermarket shelves, to skincare salons and everywhere in between. They’re some of the most popular buzzwords to be thrown around in this rapidly evolving industry and understanding what they are and how to incorporate them into your skincare routine can be a game changer in the fight against premature aging.
So what exactly are free radicals?
Free radicals are types of unstable molecules or atoms that are missing electrons in their outer shell, which causes them to search for other atoms/molecules with electrons that they can steal away in order to become stable. This leaves the unfortunate molecule or atom that has had their electron stolen to become unstable themselves. What does this have to do with our skin you may ask? When free radicals come into contact with our skin, they steal electrons away from the molecules in our skin cells, causing them to become dysfunctional and damaging the DNA inside them, which in turn, disrupts cellular functions, creating inflammation, that if prolonged, increases premature aging.
Further to this, damaged and dysfunctional cells equates to unhealthy and weak skin. The structural and defensive layers of the skin are particularly vulnerable to free radicals, which attack certain proteins, such as lipids, as well as, collagen and elastin fibres, increasing the aging process.
Free radicals are all around us, everywhere, however, they are more concentrated in areas of high population and pollution, such as larger cities or industrial zones.
Thankfully though, there is an effective way to reduce the harmful effects of free radicals on our skin and keep us younger for longer; which is where antioxidants come in. “Antioxidants are compounds that can be found in food and in skin care that stop or delay damage to our cells,” Dr Noelani González, M.D., director of cosmetic dermatology at Mount Sinai West in New York City explains. “They work by binding to free radicals, which prevents them from binding to your healthy cells and damaging them”.
A good way to get your head around antioxidants and how they work is to imagine what happens when you squeeze lemon juice on an apple to stop it from going brown. The lemon juice acts as an antioxidant and stops the oxidisation process from occurring, and as a result, the fruit stays fresh and doesn’t brown as quickly. We can reproduce this process on our skin by using the right skincare products with the right ingredients in order for us to stay fresh and youthful too.
So, what are the best ways to incorporate these amazing antioxidants into our skincare routines and when is the best time to use them? Well, for starters, antioxidant products are best applied in the morning, in order to protect your skin from environmental stressors throughout the day. Ingredients like vitamin C and resveratrol are fantastic at helping to counteract and protect from the harmful effects of free radicals. Vitamin C also is essential for the production of collagen and elastin within the dermis and can help to firm the skin, reducing fine lines and wrinkles and all sorts of sagginess. Niacinamide or vitamin B3 also has great antioxidant power. It acts to target inflammation, redness, and can even reduce hyperpigmentation. Other ingredients like vitamin E, turmeric, green tea extract, sea buckthorn and astaxanthin are also common antioxidant powerhouses.
While it’s true that free radical damage is one of the contributing factors to skin aging, I think we can all agree that antioxidants are some pretty rad ingredients and some of the best things we can all add to our skincare routine.
- Skin x