As a consumer who cares about the health of your skin, you have no doubt heard about and seen some of the many products available that contain antioxidants. Antioxidant is a health and beauty buzzword these days, and it seems as if it is everywhere. You have probably read that antioxidants are good for your body and your skin. You have also likely heard that they help fight the effects of oxidation and free radicals, two things that you know are bad but might not fully understand how and why they work against us. The relationship between oxidation, free radicals and antioxidants is all about science, but it is also very simple to understand and truly fascinating.
It all starts with the process of oxidation. Oxidation, in the most basic terms, is the reaction between two different molecules that result in a reduction in the number of electrons. Oxygen can react with an incredible number of substances, from the copper in a penny to human skin tissue. When these reactions cause a loss of an electron, a chemical change occurs. Every cell in the body that requires a combination of oxygen and enzymes to function can be affected by oxidation. Even though all of this is happening on a molecular level, we can visibly see the results. If you have seen metal turn rusty, sliced fruit turn brown, or skin begin to acquire age spots, then you have seen the effects of oxidation. Oxidation that plays a part in the health and aging of skin is referred to as oxidative stress.
Your skin is a powerful protector. It shields and separates all of your internal tissue from the outside world. Think for a moment of all of the environmental pollutants that your skin encounters on any given day. Your skin is exposed to air pollution, chemicals from body products, clothing, and furniture as well as daily exposure to ultra violet radiation from the sun. Our skin endures a lot, and we often take it for granted.
As our skin endures these stresses, oxidation occurs and the immediate result is an abundance of freely roaming molecules searching for an electron to replace the one that was lost in the oxidation reaction. The problem comes when this freely roaming molecule, also called a free radical, finds something to bind itself to in order to steal the electron. When this happens, there is a breakdown or damage to the existing molecule. The resulting damage can include the breaking of genetic material and the denaturing of vital proteins. This can cause serious problems over time, including very diseases such as cancer of the skin and other organs. While it is impossible to avoid all of the stimulants that can cause oxidative stress, it is possible to counter the actions of free radicals and even improve damage that has already been done. The tools that we have to accomplish this are what we call antioxidants.
Antioxidants are the agents that neutralize and remove free radicals from your system. In a sense, they give the free radical what it was looking for so that it doesn’t damage other molecules. Your body naturally produces both free radicals and antioxidants. The problem is that in most cases the free radicals roaming about greatly outnumber the amount of antioxidants present. To make matters worse, the number of antioxidants that we naturally produce decreases as we age, making us even more susceptible to free radical damage. There are also other situations that increase free radical presence and/or decrease antioxidant production. These include:
- Excessive stress
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Drug use, including both illegal drugs and some prescription medications
- Poor diet and nutrition
- Air Pollution
- Excessive UV exposure
- Topical skin products that contain certain chemicals
This is why it becomes important to introduce more antioxidants to your body, both through your diet and through pure, natural skin care products.
When free radicals attack your skin, the result is an acceleration of the aging process. Think for a moment about how you can often tell just by looking at someone that they are going through a stressful time, or that they aren’t taking care of themselves in terms of proper nutrition. It actually shows on their face. At first, the signs of oxidative stress might appear as dull and lifeless skin, followed by fine lines and a little sagging. Eventually, the skin will begin to lose its collagen and elasticity due to free radical damage, causing someone to look years older than they really are. The good news is when it comes to oxidative damage all is not lost, and there are corrective steps that can be taken. Antioxidants can begin immediately to stop the damage of free radicals and also work towards repairing and rebuilding some of the networks that were destroyed as a result of oxidative stress. There are several ways you can accomplish this. The first is by eliminating as many free radical causes as possible. Secondly, you can get more free radicals into your diet and finally, you can choose skin care products that are rich in antioxidants to fight the effects of oxidative stress on your skin.
Free radical damage is the main reason that the foods you choose to nourish your body with become so evident in your outside appearance. When you are not eating a varied diet, rich in nourishing foods, your skin is more likely to suffer from oxidative stress. We mentioned above that both diet and skin care play major roles in fighting the effects of free radicals. Some foods are higher in natural antioxidants than others. Antioxidant level is measured on a scale called the Oxygen Radical Absorption Capacity, or ORAC. You want to strive to get ample amounts of antioxidant rich foods into your diet each day to promote your body’s natural defense system. The top antioxidant containing foods are:
- Goji Berries
- Chocolate with at least a 70% cocoa content
- Kidney beans
- Pinto Beans
By the looks of things, achieving beautiful skin and a healthy body couldn’t be more delicious!
Knowing which foods to eat to help your body produce more antioxidants is only half of the battle. The other part is choosing skin care products that contain powerful antioxidants that can help fight oxidative stress when topically applied. There are several great sources of antioxidants that can be found in skin care products today. Some of the most potent and effective antioxidants to look for in skin care products include:
Vitamin C: Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is one of the most powerful antioxidants for skin health. It is naturally present in both the dermis and epidermis layers of the skin. As we age, there is a natural decline in the amount of vitamin C in both layers, making us more susceptible to the effects of oxidative stress. When your skin is exposed to UV radiation, vitamin C increases the transport of proteins called keratinocytes, to help fight off free radical damage. Additionally, it regulates the synthesis of collagen. In case protection from sun damage and the strengthening of your collagen network weren’t enough, vitamin C also speeds the healing of wounds, abrasions and acne as well as promoting a stronger moisture barrier on the skin to prevent premature dryness and aging.
Vitamin E: Vitamin E is a fat soluble antioxidant, and the most researched of all of the antioxidants that are used for skin care. Vitamin E, especially when combined with vitamin C, provides excellent protection against free radical damage caused by UV exposure and environmental toxins. There is some evidence to suggest that vitamin E actually absorbs some of the UV radiation so that your skin doesn’t. This is not a reason, however, to apply vitamin E oil to your skin and think that you are good for sun protection. The protection it offers isn’t enough on its own, but rather an example of how beneficial vitamin E can be for the long term health of your skin. Vitamin E is also a powerful anti-inflammatory that works to heal and reduce the effects of redness and puffiness. Because of its high moisture content, vitamin E is a primary additive in products meant to reduce the signs of more advanced aging. Keep in mind that there are several types of vitamin E, some produced naturally and others produced synthetically. Research is showing that of these options, naturally occurring vitamin E appears to be the most effective.
Beta Carotene: Beta Carotene is synthesized from vitamin A and is often seen on skin care labels as Pro Vitamin A. Beta Carotene’s claim to fame is that it works to increase cell turnover and rejuvenation. This constant regeneration of the outer layers of the skin help to keep new, undamaged cells on the surface and keep your skin soft and smooth. Additionally, beta carotene offers a mild pigmentation benefits, which can help even out skin tone and provide you with a genuinely healthy looking glow. Beta carotene also has soothing properties and is good for relieving and healing dry or otherwise irritated skin.
Green Tea: Many people know that green tea is a well known antioxidant; however it is often assumed that it only comes in the form of a soothing, steaming beverage. Not as many people are aware that green tea, as an additive in skin care products, provides a multitude of antioxidant benefits. Chemical substances called polyphenols in green tea neutralize free radicals and are used as an antioxidant additive in products for a variety of skin types. Green tea can fight sun damage, age spots, dryness, sagging, discolorations, puffiness, irritated skin and acne. What an incredible and versatile natural ingredient!
We know that free radical damage is among the leading cause of distressed and aging skin. We also know that antioxidants are powerful tools to neutralize and fight the damage, leaving you with smooth, healthy and more youthful skin. The truly amazing part is that this process is completely natural. By including antioxidants in your skin care routine, you are taking steps to promote your body’s natural anti aging defense system rather than choosing unnatural additives that put additional stress on your skin. You can increase the healing potential of antioxidants by keeping the quality of your skin care products in mind. For best results, stick with companies that have made a commitment to natural skin care and that carry with them respect and integrity. Your skin is the largest organ on your body, and its purpose is immense. By respecting your skin and the quality of the products that you use, you are doing an incredible service not just to your appearance, but to your overall health. Antioxidants are more than a way of reversing the signs of aging. They are the key that opens the door to long term skin health and ageless beauty.
-- Angela Irish, Certified Aesthetician & Co-Founder OZNaturals