Saturday 13th January 2024
written by Mollie Cox, senior esthetician at Dorchester Aesthetics
Antioxidants and free radicals. You may have heard us mention these a lot in our clinic, especially during our advanced digital skin analysis or skin consultations, so you may be wondering what they are. You may know theyre important for your skin, but still not entirely sure why. In this blog, I'm going to remove the complexity of the chemistry and break it down for you to understand!
Let's get the bad guys out of the way first:
Free radicals are highly reactive, unstable molecules that are as a result of natural biochemical reactions in your body (little bit sciencey, sorry!). Despite being a completely natural bodily reaction, they aren't necessarily a good thing, but nonetheless it is an essential part of our body processes. We call free radicals "selfish molecules" because they're constantly trying to latch onto more stable cells. But by doing so, it damages the healthy cell, compromising normal cell function; this process is called oxidation.
Oxidation results in ageing, through damaging the collagen and elastin scaffold in the dermis which keeps the skin bouncy. Free radical damage can even go as far as contributing to the development of cancer and other diseases. Free radicals come from normal metabolic processes in the body, from carcinogens (cancer causing substances, such as smoking, air pollution, UV radiation, asbestos, medical radiation) and exposure to other harmful substances in the environment.
A really great, easy to understand example is excessive exposure to UV rays. We know that prolonged exposure to the sun causes premature ageing. Too much exposure to UV increases the amount of free radicals in your body, potentially more than your body’s antioxidant pool will be able to manage. If this is not kept in check, or once our antioxidant pool is entirely depleted, these free radicals are left to infiltrate cell after cell. This means potentially causing mutations, damaging the collagen and elastin the dermis layer, and leading to pesky wrinkles and accelerating signs of ageing.
This happens every time we are subjected to an overexposure of UV rays, which is why sunburn is so dangerous! This is why we always harp on the importance of a good SPF. But SPF alone isn't enough, so what else can help us?
SPF protect you from UVA and UVB, but it doesn't protect your skin from visible light and heat, so that's where we also need a topical antioxidant.
As we age, our ability to fight these rogue agents degrades too. So how can we fight free radicals?
The good guys!
Antioxidants are your body’s natural defence against free radicals. They balance the scales by neutralising, and are your protection against free radicals. So basically, they’re super important! Antioxidants are among the few cells that are able to safely interact with a free radical to stop it in its tracks before it causes damage. Unfortunately as we age, our rate at which we make antioxidants becomes fewer and slower. Antioxidants are found in an abundance of fruits, vegetables, nuts, herbs, spices and green tea as phytochemicals. These nutrients can stop the formation of free radicals and even reduce the damage they cause in the body. This means it’s very important to have a balanced diet incorporating lots of fruits and veggies packed with antioxidants as your best defence against free radical damage.
We can also supplement and use topicals to help along the way! When it comes to antioxidants, there isn’t a “one size fits all”. Antioxidants work best as a team, which is why you will often see Vitamin C and Vitamin E paired together as they perform much better! You need a team of antioxidants carefully formulated to work together to promote stability, penetration, compatibility and most importantly, effectiveness!
We can never completely avoid free radicals, they are a natural process within the body even if we do everything else possible to eliminate environmental exposure (which would be practically impossible!), but armed with correct knowledge, we can do our best to reduce exposure and use the correct products on our skin to build up our very own little internal army, keeping us healthy and looking younger for longer!
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