What exactly are free radicals? We’ve all heard of them and how they can damage cells in our bodies. We also know, in some vague way, that antioxidants help counteract the potential for damage. So why are we looking for ‘anti-oxidants’ and not ‘anti-radicals’ in our skin care products? The answer lies in how a free radical is formed.
What is a free radical?
A free radical is a highly charged and unstable molecule containing a single electron. This is compared to a stable molecule, which contains two electrons. Free radicals stabilize themselves by stealing an electron from a nearby molecule. The attacked molecule then becomes unstable (and starts looking for a molecule to steal an electron from). The process may start a chain reaction that continues for a very long time with the outcome being damaged and dysfunctional cells. Free radical damage may occur anywhere in the body leading to diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes. In the skin, free radicals activate enzymes that break down collagen (the skin’s supporting structure), leading to wrinkles and fine lines.
How are free radicals created?
Free radicals are created by anything that contains oxygen – carbon monoxide, hydrogen peroxide. They may also be caused by exposure to daily living:
- Exhaust fumes
Even normal bodily processes such as digestion and breathing, may lead to free radicals.
Fight Back With Antioxidants
The best way to minimize free radical damage is to limit your exposure to triggers. Of course, some things (like eating) are unavoidable. If you can’t avoid exposure, then you can protect yourself with antioxidants. Antioxidants are nature’s way of fighting back. By lending a spare electron to a free radical, antioxidants help stop the chain reaction of damage. They can do this without becoming free radicals themselves. The good news is that antioxidants are abundant in the human body and in plants. They include ingredients such as vitamins A, C and E; flavonoids; superoxide dismutase; beta carotene; selenium; glutathione; and zinc.
An antioxidant-rich diet, which includes fruits and vegetables, is a great way to fight free radicals damage in the body. When it comes to your skin, a topical antioxidant preparation is the best way to deliver it to where it’s needed. A well formulated preparation can even help to boost the effectiveness of your sunscreen. Our favorites include:
- Apothekari Vitamin C, E and Ferulic acid serum, formulated with high concentrations of protective anti-oxidants
- La Roche Posay Derm AOX serum, containing vitamin C, pycnogenol and carnosine to fight cell oxidation and glycation
- Reversa Anti-Oxidant Booster, harnassing green tea extract and vitamin E to protect against daily environmental hazards
Apply them twice daily – in the morning to fight against free radical damage from daily living and at night to help repair and rejuvenate skin.