Antioxidants have become a skin care buzz-word. Product labels and advertisements highlight antioxidants in skin care formulas. And skin therapists encourage clients to seek antioxidants for optimal skin health. But what are antioxidants and how do they benefit the skin?
In order to fully understand how antioxidants help to protect our skin, we must first understand free radicals and oxidative stress and the role that they play in cellular damage.
Free radicals are highly reactive, unstable molecules that occur as part of biological and chemical processes, such as when the body breaks down food or is exposed to environmental pollution or UV radiation. Unhealthy lifestyle choices such as smoking, poor diet, and alcohol consumption can also release these unstable molecules into the body.
Once released, a free radical seeks to stabilize itself as quickly as possible by attracting enough electrons to become balanced. Available electrons typically belong to other molecules which need them, so the theft (to call it what it is) results in destabilization of the neighboring molecule. This next unbalanced molecule becomes a free radical, and so on and so on. . . setting off a cascade of problems.
Oxidative stress is a term used to describe when this free radical cascade remains unchecked and significantly impacts cells and systems of the body.
In the skin, oxidative stress causes damage to proteins, DNA, and cell membranes, changing their composition enough that skin cells are unable to function properly. This interferes with intercellular communication and metabolic processes, including nutrient delivery, pigmentation production, and the synthesis of collagen and elastin. The result? Dull, devitalized skin and signs of premature aging such as wrinkles, sun spots, and loss of firmness.
Antioxidants for Skin Health
In advanced skin therapy, one of our primary strategies for maintaining healthy skin is through the use of ingredients and formulas that provide antioxidant support against free radical damage.
What are Antioxidants?
Simply put, antioxidants are the defenders of our cells. They are chemical compounds that readily sacrifice their own electrons in order to neutralize free radicals before the oxidative stress cascade creates major damage to surrounding cells and systems.
Produced by the body or obtained through foods and topical application, antioxidants are an essential part of healthy skin support and protection.
What are the Best Antioxidants for Skin?
All forms of antioxidants play an important role in protecting cells from UV light, pollution, and other environmental elements that trigger free radicals. There are far too many to explore here. However, some are more potent than others, so we’ve listed a few of the most beneficial:
Vitamin A – Vitamin A is a powerful antioxidant with proven ability to promote healthy skin cell formation. It balances and restores moisture levels, accelerates cell renewal and repair, smooths fine lines and wrinkles, supports collagen production, and improves overall skin tone. Learn more about vitamin A in our article, “Skin Benefits of Vitamin A.”
Vitamin C – Along with being effective protection from free radicals, Vitamin C has other skin-boosting benefits, helping with pigmentation, collagen production, as well as firming & brightening overall skin tone. Learn more about vitamin C in our article, “Skin Benefits of Vitamin C.”
Vitamin E – Considered an antioxidant superstar, Vitamin E is widely recognized for its ability to accelerate the skin’s healing process. It’s a potent soothing ingredient and makes an excellent hydrator, moisturizer, and humectant all in one.
Resveratrol – Derived from berries, tea, red wine, and the skins of fruits like grapes, resveratrol contains an antimicrobial substance that plants use to protect themselves from air pollution, infection, intense UV radiation, and extreme climate changes. Resveratrol has the ability to raise the skin’s natural defenses against free radical damage. This amazing antioxidant also boosts the activity of cellular mitochondria (the cell’s powerhouses), which promotes more efficient energy production and longer cell life in the body.
Green Tea – Green tea contains natural antioxidant properties from the component Epigallocatechin Gallate (EGCG), which helps to prevent cellular and DNA damage from UV rays and may assist in preventing skin cancer. A potent anti-aging ingredient, green tea combats signs of aging when ingested or applied topically. Green tea also reduces irritation, redness, and swelling, making it a highly effective anti-inflammatory ingredient.
Niacinamide (Vitamin B3) – Niacinamide, also known as vitamin B3, is a powerful antioxidant that exhibits anti-inflammatory properties. Often found in many anti-aging formulas, B3 improves skin tone and texture.
- For more information about antioxidants in your diet, we recommend Antioxidants: The Power of Vitamins C & E by Ashley Reaver, MS, RD, CSSD.
Antioxidants as Preservatives
Some antioxidant ingredients are so effective at reducing free radical formation and stabilizing other molecules that they are also used in skin care formulas to protect the integrity of other ingredients. Antioxidants in products pull double duty – protecting the formula itself when it’s in the bottle, and your skin once it’s applied.
Antioxidants for Sun Protection
Exposure to UV rays is a major trigger for free radical formation, even when using sunscreen. These free radicals lead to visible skin damage in the form of pigmentation, wrinkles, loss of firmness and more. Sun exposure rapidly depletes naturally-occurring antioxidants in your skin as they sacrifice themselves to protect your cells. To boost skin’s defenses, apply topical antioxidants under sunscreen for enhanced protection against sun damage and photoaging. Apply antioxidant-rich body oil or cream after a day in the sun to replenish depleted vitamins and essential moisture.
All antioxidants have anti-inflammatory properties, which means they can lessen your skin’s inflammatory response to the sun’s harmful rays.
Interested in adding antioxidants to your skin care routine? Share your antioxidant questions with us and join the conversation!