Antioxidants protect the skin from free radicals and the oxidative stress that they cause. Scientifically speaking, free radicals are atoms, molecules, or ions that have an unpaired electron. They form during the reactions where oxygen is used in order to oxidize (burn) nutrients and turn them into energy. Since free radical molecules lack one electron (are unstable), they react with healthy cells of our bodies and steal one electron from them in order to become stable which causes immense damage to the cells. There are many types of free radicals, but us, humans, the most important ones are the oxygen radicals (reactive oxygen species), such as superoxide, peroxides, hydroxyl radical, singlet oxygen, etc.
Even though oxidation is a normal process that our body can handle quite well, certain elements of modern life, such as smoking, stress, UV rays, air and water pollution, etc., can accelerate it. Oxidative stress occurs when natural antioxidant systems of the body that become weaker in time, can no longer neutralize the free radicals and that may cause various pathologies of the body, including inflammation and aging processes in our skin.
Antioxidants are a group of compounds that fight free radicals. Antioxidants give the free radicals their electrons and neutralize them. After their job is done, they are eliminated from our bodies fast enough not cause it any damage.
Some of the best examples of oxidation and antioxidants, are such fruit as apples or bananas. As soon as you cut them and they encounter oxygen they start going brown but if you sprinkle some lemon juice on the parts that have been cut (the vitamin C that is found in lemons is one of the most powerful antioxidants of all time), the oxidation process stops and the fruit will not change their color for some time.
Antioxidants & our skin
Antioxidants are extremely important for the smooth operation of the systems in our bodies including the health of our skin. They help fight premature aging by helping the cells to remain healthy and undamaged and keeping the DNA chains intact. When it comes to our skin:
1. Antioxidants fight acne since oxidative-stress-induced inflammation often causes pimples.
2. Antioxidants aid in UV damage neutralization.
3. Antioxidants can make the skin brighter, even its tone, and help fight hyperpigmentation since they suppress melanin production.
4. Antioxidants promote skin regeneration processes and improve the production of collagen.
Antioxidants in skincare
The best sources of antioxidants are plants. Phenols, polyphenols, ascorbic acid, and carotenoids are only a few examples of the magnificent antioxidants that are found in the plant kingdom. In order to adapt to the changing environment and ever-growing pollution, plants make more antioxidants that we can use in our diets as well as in topical cosmetic products in order to avoid premature aging and inflammation. Here are some of the most popular antioxidants that we often find in skincare products:
1. Green tea extract. Green tea is one of the most popular antioxidants in both, Western and Eastern cultures. It’s effective both as a drink and as a topical ingredient (in the form of green tea extract). In the beauty domain, green tea extract is valued for its ability to protect the skin from harmful environmental factors. It is suitable for all skin types and can soothe the skin, reduce excessive sebum production and slow down the aging processes.
2. Retinol (vitamin A). This exquisitely powerful ingredient is backed by tons of scientific research and is considered to be one of the most effective anti-aging ingredients. Retinol is both an antioxidant and a regenerating ingredient that helps the skin to renew itself. It is advised to start using retinol in your late 20s and incorporate it slowly (1-2 times a week) and choose relatively small concentrations (for example, 0.2%). The skin that is not used to retinol may react heavily and start peeling, become inflamed, and extremely sensitive. If you use retinol, do not forget to invest in strong sun protection (SPF50).
3. Vitamin C (ascorbic acid). This ingredient has many variations and is used in cosmetic products in its many forms. Just like retinol, vitamin C should be tamed slowly even though it is more gentle. Vitamin C is appreciated for being very potent in brightening the skin and fighting hyperpigmentation.
4. Vitamin E. This vitamin is known for its ability to speed up healing processes of the skin. Usually, it can be found in products that are meant for dry skin, as well as products that fight stretch marks. Vitamin E also stabilizes other antioxidants and increases their effectiveness therefore it is often paired with vitamin C or resveratrol.
5. Resveratrol. Resveratrol is known as the longevity molecule and is a powerful anti-aging ingredient. This antioxidant is usually found in fruit skins (grapes, berries) and acts as their protective shield. It also provides similar benefits for the skin. It has anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antifungal properties, soothes the skin, and fights infections. This ingredient should be used in the evening since sunlight inhibits its effectiveness.
6. Niacinamide. Niacinamide or vitamin B3 is a powerful antioxidant that helps to control sebum production, fights inflammation, and tackles hyperpigmentation. Niacinamide is a crucial part of many vitally important processes that happen in our bodies and is necessary for cell renewal and the maintenance of their optimal health.
7. Polyphenols. Polyphenols are a large family of naturally occurring organic compounds found in plants. They take part in growth and reproduction processes and protect the plants from harmful environmental factors. There are over 8000 polyphenols among which, the aforementioned resveratrol. Polyphenols in skincare products help neutralize photodamage, have anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory properties.
8. Coenzyme Q10. Coenzyme Q10, otherwise known as ubiquinone is an antioxidant that our bodies produce naturally. Yet, it is one of the compounds the amount of which decreases in time. Coenzyme Q10 takes part in the processes that generate energy so the largest amounts of it can be found in the heart, the liver and the kidneys. Yet, these processes also occur in the skin, so coenzyme Q10 can provide the skin with the energy that is necessary for its regeneration.
These 8 ingredients can be found in a wide variety of skincare products, yet it is useful to mention two more plant ingredients that are a lot rarer but just as effective and powerful.
9. Kakadu plum extract. Kakadu plum originated in Australia where it was used for medicinal purposes to treat infections and relieve pain. According to scientific research, this fruit is among those containing the highest levels of Vitamin C in the world. In skincare, this extract is extremely useful because it provides all the vitamin C benefits in the form of a plant extract.
10. Acerola cherry extract. Acerola cherry is also very rich in antioxidants. Among other properties that all antioxidants share, it can also help strengthen capillaries, therefore it might be helpful for people who are prone to rosacea.
Whatever antioxidant you choose to incorporate into your skincare routine, you can be sure that it will provide your skin with the necessary protection from harmful environmental factors, UV rays, and other elements of modern living that stand in the way of its optimal health.