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How to Protect Your Skin from Free Radical Damage

March 23, 2021

How to Protect Your Skin from Free Radical Damage

You’ve likely heard of free radicals and how they’re no good, dirty enemies of youth. But what exactly are free radicals, other than a buzzy skincare term?

Free radicals are unstable molecules that cause damage to healthy cells. Free radicals have even been linked to heart disease, cancer and other diseases. But what do they actually do? And how can you protect your skin from these chaos-causing molecules?

We’re diving deep into the bad guys of the skincare world, with everything you need to know about free radicals below!

What are free radicals?

Free radicals are unstable reactive molecules that form in the skin. They are separated from their natural pair and searching for a replacement. When they come into contact with unprotected skin, free radicals run through the layers of your epidermis. They attack healthy cells, breaking down collagen and elastin.

This speeds up the natural signs of aging, resulting in things like wrinkles, sagging, dryness, dullness and unwanted pigmentation. And even though you can't see them your skin is constantly under attack from free radicals.

Where do free radicals come from?

Unfortunately, free radicals are a product of the world and environment around us. They are produced naturally in the body through chemical processes like metabolism. But they are also generated through the following:

  • Pollution from things like smog, dust, household cleaners and pesticides
  • Environmental damage 
  • Stress
  • Smoking cigarettes
  • Consuming fried foods
  • Drinking alcohol
  • UV light from the sun
  • Blue light from electronic devices like smartphones, laptops, and tablets (more about this in our previous post Does Blue Light Cause Skin Damage?)

How do free radicals damage your skin?

Even though you can’t see them, your skin is always under attack by free radicals. What makes these molecules unstable is that they are missing an electron from their outer shell. Electrons like to be in pairs. This causes them to search for other electrons to pair up with.

When free radicals are unable to steal an electron from other atoms, they start stealing them from your skin cells. Free radicals kick off a chain reaction that leaves a path of destruction in their wake. The first free radical pulls an electron from a molecule, destabilizing it and then turning it into a free radical. That molecule then takes an electron from another one, and so on.

This domino effect can eventually disrupt and damage the whole cell. The damage eventually appears on the skin in the form of wrinkles, sagging, dryness, dullness and unwanted pigmentation.

How to Protect Your Skin From Free Radical Damage

If free radicals are the bad guys of the skincare world, antioxidants are the good guys. Antioxidants are vitamins and nutrients that neutralize free radicals to protect your skin from damage.

You know how electrons like to be in pairs? Well antioxidants just happen to have an extra electron to donate without making themselves unstable. When antioxidants encounter free radicals, the antioxidants bind to them. This immediately delivers their extra electron to the free radical.

Antioxidants return free radicals to their balanced state before they can damage your skin. In the fight against free radicals, antioxidants are your greatest line of defense.

The Best Antioxidants for Your Skin

The following are some of the most powerful antioxidants when it comes to defending against free radical damage:

  • Vitamin C: Full of potent antioxidants, vitamin C is clinically proven to fight against free radicals. It also plays a crucial role in the process in which your skin creates its supportive structure to stay firm and healthy. 
  • Vitamin E: Vitamin E is an antioxidant naturally present in the body, known for its ability to soothe and firm the skin. It works to reduce the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and age spots to reveal younger looking skin. The benefits of applying vitamin E include protection against UV damage and anti-inflammatory properties.
  • CoQ10: Coenzyme Q10 is a super-antioxidant proven to combat the signs of aging. Studies show that topical application of CoQ10 results in a reduction in wrinkle depth and fine lines. It also has the capacity to be absorbed into the skin, building up over time as you continually apply it.
  • Green Tea: Bursting with potent antioxidants, green tea helps minimize signs of aging, reduces oiliness, and controls the appearance of breakouts and dark circles. 
  • Resveratrol: Naturally found in berries, peanuts and red grapes, resveratrol possesses antioxidant, anti-inflammatory properties
  • Curcumin: This polyphenol antioxidant helps decrease inflammation, accelerates wound healing, prevents oily skin and acne, fights free radicals, and is photo-protective, anti-aging and anti-microbial 
  • Vitamin A: Often seen as retinoids or retinol, vitamin A has multiple functions, like increasing healthy cellular turnover, repairing cellular structure of the skin, decreasing sebum production, and eliciting collagen formation
  • Vitamin B3: Also known as niacinamide, vitamin B3 is a powerful antioxidant shown to improve skin hydration, reduce fine lines and wrinkles, decrease brown spots, and improve skin elasticity.

Tips for Using Antioxidants 

Thinking of adding some antioxidants into your skincare routine? These tips will help you get the most out of your free radical fighting products.

1. Pair them together.

When it comes to antioxidants in skincare, they work synergistically. This means that they work together by stabilizing and powering one another up. For example, a vitamin C serum is good but pair it with a vitamin E face oil and free radicals beware!

2. Use them in your AM and PM skincare routines.

Dermatologists used to recommend antioxidants be used only in the a.m. since the skin isn't exposed to much at night. But research now showsinflammation from daytime UV damage can persist for several hours after exposure, so antioxidants can be useful in your p.m routine as well. Try a antioxidant-packed firming eye mask after your nighttime routine for a little extra self care!

3. Vitamin C can be finicky.

Although the skincare benefits of vitamin c are widely known, it can be finicky. This antioxidant doesn’t always interact well with retinoids and skin acids. But that’s not to say they can’t coexist. Use your vitamin C in the morning and skin acids at night.

4. Use them for a clearer complexion.

Free radicals can damage sebum which then promotes inflammation around follicles and can lead to breakouts. Inflammation is a driving factor in acne and precedes the pimples themselves. But if you incorporate antioxidants into your routine, you can keep breakouts at bay. For the occasional breakout, however, swap out antioxidants for a clay face mask with salicylic acid. Antioxidants can also control the overproduction of pigment in skin, which is what causes uneven tone and sunspots.

5. Be sure to eat them, too.

Topical antioxidants can't always reach the deep layers of the skin . That’s why adding antioxidants to your diet is so important. While the body makes its own antioxidants, it counts on your diet to get enough of them. Antioxidants are released from the foods you eat through digestion. They travel through the bloodstream and into your cells to defend against free radicals.

Antioxidant-Rich Foods for Healthy Skin

If your skin is looking dull and lifeless, it may be time to add one or more of these antioxidant-rich foods into your diet:
  • Coffee and teaCoffee, black tea, and green tea are all great sources of antioxidants
  • Berries: Cranberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, goji berries—are bursting with antioxidants.
  • Tomatoes: Tomatoes, which are high in a potent antioxidant, lycopene, which has been associated with a lower risk of some cancers.
  • Nuts and seeds: Nuts and seeds like walnuts, pecans, sunflower seeds, peanuts, hazelnuts, pistachios, and almonds are all rich in antioxidants.
  • Dark chocolate: Dark chocolate get’s its antioxidants (called flavonoids) from the cocoa it’s made with. The greater the cocoa content the greater the antioxidant content.
  • Spices and herbs: One study found that the following spices had a high antioxidant content.
    • Allspice
    • Cinnamon
    • Cloves
    • Mint
    • Oregano
    • Rosemary
    • Saffron
    • Sage
    • Nutmeg
    • Ginger
    • Dill
  • Stone fruits: Apricots, pears, nectarines, and plums are full of naturally occurring sugars, fiber, and vitamins, including antioxidants
  • Whole grains: Whole grains like buckwheat, millet, and barley are a great source of fiber and antioxidants.
  • Artichokes: Artichokes are full of different antioxidants like vitamin C, hydroxycinnamic acids, and flavones.
  • Pomegranates: Both the whole arils and the juice of pomegranates are packed with polyphenol antioxidants like tannins and flavonoids.
  • Kale: Leafy greens are notoriously known for being loaded with antioxidants and kale is loaded with them.

Free radicals are unstable and highly reactive molecules. They steal electrons from other sources, damaging your skin in the process. Free radicals attack your healthy skin cells, taking the oxygen from them and essentially destroying them.

Once this happens, your skin becomes much more susceptible to premature aging. That’s why it's so important to protect against them. Load up on the antioxidants- both in your skincare routine and your diet -- and banish free radical skin damage for good!

Shop Top-Rated Antioxidant Skincare from Herbal Dynamics Beauty: