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Fighting Photoaging with Plant Oils

September 07, 2021


From the day you are born, your body begins to age. Sorry, but there’s not much anyone can do about it - it’s simply a fact of life. Some of us age faster, some of us age slower, but we all age. That means the beautiful skin we had when we were in our early teens is going to give way to lines and wrinkles as we approach our late 20s and early 30s. 

To start with, there are really two types of aging: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic aging is the “biological clock” that starts when we’re born and never stops running. Extrinsic aging is the premature aging that happens due to forces outside of our body - like sunlight, pollution, and other toxins.

While you can’t stop the clock entirely, there is something you can do about premature aging. To help you understand this better, we’ll first take a look at what premature aging is all about.  

The Trouble Starts with the Sun

When the skin is exposed to UV rays from the sun, free radicals are formed. A free radical is a molecule with only one electron, so it’s volatile and looking to pair with another electron. Free radicals do damage to skin cells by attacking the cell’s DNA and mitochondria, located within the cell membrane.

This causes damage, and the damage includes an inability to produce collagen and elastin, two proteins that keep the skin taut and firm. Because of this, the skin begins to sag, and looks older than the person’s chronological age. In addition, hyperpigmentations (age spots) occur, also making the skin look older than its years.

Your body produces free radicals all the time, just by breathing, for example. But the more damaging ones come from outside of the body. The biggest culprits are the ones produced by exposure to UV radiation from the sun, as well as from environmental toxins like pollution, smoke, and other pollutants in the air that we’re exposed to each day

When skin cells are exposed to UV light skin aging occurs through reactive oxygen species (ROS). These are chemically reactive molecules containing oxygen. Here’s why - your skin and body have all the oxygen you need from the air we breathe. So when skin is exposed to excessive oxygen over prolonged periods of time, the skin suffers damage to cell membranes and other areas of the body.

Another issue is oxidative stress. As we breathe, reactive oxygen species (ROS) are formed. Normally, our bodies can handle them, but when your body is exposed to UV rays from the sun, ROS levels go up in huge numbers, causing damage to skin cell structures.

Along with free radicals, environmental pollution and other toxins in the air exacerbate oxidative stress. This causes oxidative damage to various cellular components that include proteins, lipids, and DNA. Many scientists think that the DNA damage is the basis for UV-induced skin cancer.

Fighting Photoaging with Plant Oils: Start with Antioxidants

So how do plant oils help combat oxidative stress and free radicals that cause photoaging? You have to look at the components of plant oils to understand how they work to fight off the photoaging process.

First up are powerful antioxidants found in plant oils. Antioxidants are the first line of defense against the damage done by free radicals and oxidative stress. Any antioxidant that helps promote cell growth plays an important role in the anti-aging process. Skin cells continue to regrow, and the antioxidants help cells grow and minimize the fine lines and wrinkles caused by free radicals and oxidative stress.

Here’s something else that they do: in addition to helping to block the formation of free radicals, potent antioxidants work to repair cells that are already damaged by free radicals. The damage caused by free radicals happens to the collagen and elastin proteins in the skin.

Without a constant replenishment of collagen or elastin, the skin loses its ability to regain its elasticity, and begins to sag. This forms fine lines and wrinkles - two sure-fire symptoms of premature aging.

Various plant oils are generally derived from plant seeds. These include almond oil, peanut oil, grape seed oil, safflower oil, and others. Oils that are seen as fats at room temperature include coconut oil, palm oil, cocoa butter, and others.

Another benefit of plant oils is their vitamin content; particularly vitamin D and vitamin E. They’re also high in linoleic acid, which is a key ingredient in many cosmetic and skincare product formulations. Linoleic acid is a polyunsaturated fatty acid found in many oils, especially safflower and sunflower oils. It has also been shown to unclog pores which helps reduce the outbreaks of acne.

Fighting Photoaging with Plant Oils: Restoring Collagen and Elastin

If you use plant oils to wage war with the free radicals and oxidative stress in the body, the powerful antioxidants in the plant oils find damaged cells and provide the nutrients needed to help the body produce new collagen and elastin. This is the only way that photoaging can be stopped and reversed, so that skin cells appear younger, smoother, and more radiant.

One question that always comes up has to do with the efficacy of ingesting plant oils in foods versus using them topically. The bottom line is that topical application always supersedes ingesting the oils, cooking with them, or creating a diet rich in antioxidants.

The reason is simple: when plant oils are ingested, the body metabolizes them and most of the antioxidant benefits never reach the outer layer of the skin. In fact, only about 1% to 3% ever reach the epidermis, the outer layer of skin cells. But when you apply the oils topically, in skincare products and cosmetic formulations, they are placed on the exact spot where they need to do their job.

Topical anti-aging oils and formulations are designed to reduce wrinkles, while reversing sun damage on the skin. In addition, they need to reduce redness and skin sagging - two distinct elements of photoaging. The components within the products used must have flavonoids, polyphenols and vitamin D and E from various plant oils in order to produce the desired effect. 

Preventing Photoaging: Strategies to Use

One of the keys to avoiding photoaging of the skin is prevention. Since the sun’s UV rays are the main cause of photoaging, it’s best to prevent sun exposure on the skin by using sunscreens and appropriate clothing to avoid sun damage to the skin the first place.

This includes using sunscreens with a high SPF number to prevent skin damage from chronic exposure of the sun’s UV A and B rays. By blocking or reducing skin exposure to UV radiation, you’re helping your skin avoid collagen and elastin breakdown while helping to promote collagen production.

That would be the initial strategy, and the follow-up strategy would be to topically apply plant oil formulations to provide antioxidant and vitamin-rich nutrients to the skin to fight free radicals and oxidative stress.

This “one-two punch” strategy will help skin look younger, more firm and more radiant. A daily ritual of cleansing and application of antioxidant-rich plant oil skincare and cosmetic products will help keep your skin looking younger while helping you avoid the photoaging that many people suffer from. Fighting photoaging with plant oils is a way to give your skin the nutrients it needs to return to its youthful appearance.