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Oxidative Stress and
Antioxidants

Carley Miki

Posted on August 19 2020

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Many of us are familiar with the effects of oxidative stress in our skin: inflammation, uneven texture and tone, hyperpigmentation, and even loss of firmness and elasticity.  But just what is oxidative stress?  And what can you do to combat it?  The answer is antioxidants!

What is oxidative stress?

Before we can talk about oxidative stress, we need to discuss free radicals. Free radicals are highly reactive molecules that can cause inflammation and extensive cellular damage when they react with components in your skin - lipids, proteins, and even DNA - altering their molecular structure and causing them to become unstable as a result of the interaction.  The altered molecules no longer perform their intended function, and often end up creating a chain reaction of free radical generation to propagate further damage.  This can have some serious implications on the structure and health of your skin: Damaged proteins lead to loss of elasticity, damaged cells can cause inflammation, and mutated DNA can lead to skin cancer. 

Unfortunately, free radicals are being generated in your skin all the time – UV exposure and air pollution are major contributors to free radical production, but even normal cell processes necessary for survival produce some free radicals as byproducts.  Thankfully, your skin has a host of defenses to keep free radicals and the damage they cause in check, but trouble starts when the amount of free radicals being produced exceeds the skin’s capacity to control them.  This state is referred to as oxidative stress.

What are antioxidants?

Antioxidants are molecules that neutralize free radicals.  This prevents the free radical from undergoing damaging reactions and breaks the chain of free radical generation.  Your skin naturally produces a variety of antioxidants, such as glutathione and coenzyme Q10, as a control mechanism against free radicals and oxidative stress.

What about antioxidants in skincare?

Your skin does a pretty good job of keeping free radicals in check, but as we age our skin’s cellular processes begin to slow down, meaning that it isn’t able to keep up with neutralizing free radicals and cleaning up damaged cells as well as it once did.  

Antioxidants in your skincare help boost your skin’s defenses and allows for better control of oxidative stress.  You’ll find lots of different antioxidants in skincare products, many of which offer additional benefits to the skin as well.  A few of the more common antioxidants you’ll find are:

  • Vitamin C – “L-ascorbic acid” and other derivatives (also a great for brightening the skin)
  • Vitamin E – “Tocopherol” or “tocopherol acetate” (also has soothing, anti-inflammatory benefits)
  • Vitamin A – “Retinol” or “retinol palmitate” (also has powerful anti-aging effects)
  • Vitamin B3 – “Niacinamide” (also a great moisturizer)
  • Plant/fruit extracts: green tea extract, ginseng, resveratrol, and many more!

Damage from free radicals accumulates more quickly as we age so it’s best to start protecting your skin early, then continue to repair and protect the skin as we get older.  Apply an antioxidant rich moisturizer with your UV protective skincare product in the morning to help prevent damage caused by environmental factors encountered throughout the day. Using an overnight antioxidant treatment such as a serum or night cream can help your skin catch up on damage control and prepare its defenses for the next day as well.

The Take Away Message

Antioxidants are a powerful addition to your skincare routine and can make a big difference in preventing and repairing the damaging effects of oxidative stress.  No matter what your age, skin type, or skin concern, antioxidants are here to help keep your skin youthful and healthy!

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