Welcome to part five! My final installment in breaking down the science behind anti-aging products. This time the spotlight is firmly on how antioxidants function. They are now known as a must have additive in your skincare and the association they have with super foods has propelled these compounds into superstar ingredient status. But do you really need them in your routine?
What are antioxidants?
They are a class of compounds that prevent oxidation caused by free radicals. They achieve this by preventing the formation and opposing the actions of reactive oxygen and nitrogen species, which are generated in vivo (i.e in your body) and cause damage to DNA, lipids, proteins, and other biomolecules.
There natural presence in your body creates and equilibrium that soak up free radical damage. They occur in your body as enzymes like superoxide dismutase, catalase and glutathione peroxidase. There are also smaller non-enzymatic antioxidants like vitamins C and E, coenzyme Q10 (ubiquinol) and glutathione.
When the balance is shifted in favor of the free radicals, cellular damage that impacts the aging process of your skin, can occur.
What are free radicals?
Free radicals are molecules with an unpaired electron, this makes them highly reactive. In order to become more stable, they have to acquire another electron to complete their outer shell and they do this by taking one from another molecule.
Once they have acquired this electron the molecule they took it from now seeks an electron to stabilize itself and so the chain reaction begins. In this process of electron transfer chemical bonds are constantly broken and formed leading to irreversible changes in the molecules structure and function.
The thing about free radicals is that they’re not all bad. They are formed in many natural biological processes like respiration. Issues occur when too many are formed all in one place. And there are lots of environmental stressors that contribute to this formation like; smoking, UV exposure and pollution.
That’s why J.Lo is adamant about using sunscreen everyday.
The free radical theory
This theory hypothesizes that oxygen-derived free radicals are responsible for the age-related damage at the cellular and tissue levels. A balance of oxidants, antioxidants and bio molecules is the normal state in which the skin is healthy.
However, as stated above, environmental stressors such as; UV rays and pollution can overwhelm the natural cellular antioxidant defenses leading to oxidation and further contributing to cellular functional impairment. In fact, UV rays are the main creators of free radicals in skin because we are exposed to them so often. UVA rays can even penetrate glass and clouds. Hence, the need for sunscreen indoors and all year round.
The notion that free radicals are promoters of the aging process implies that efforts to inhibit their mechanism of function could slow down the anti-aging process. Western medicine has taken this idea on board and hence has produced a slew of products that target antioxidant supplementation and this is why antioxidants are labelled as one of the five most important ingredients in fighting skin aging.
There are still some limitations that we need to overcome before we are able to fully declare antioxidants as saviors in the fight against aging. One important one is the lack of literature on the potential benefits of antioxidant supplementation. Another is the deeper understanding of the antioxidant itself and it’s mechanism of action. Lastly, I personally would like more information on dietary supplementation vs topical application. With time and more research these limitations can easily be overcome and we could all have a much better understanding of how to protect our skin.
There is some argument that only consuming antioxidants through berries and such has a lesser ability to ascertain their anti-aging benefits due to the antioxidant being destroyed during digestion. It could also mean they are reducing oxidative damage in unwanted cells when large supplements are taken.
Antioxidants in skincare
The above is all the more reason for including antioxidant rich products in your skincare. Topical application may provide more benefit because your skin is exposed to the elements (in particular, UV), it’s a part of your body that experiences a lot of extra free radical damage, and can benefit the most from extra antioxidants.
Some ingredients to look for in skincare:
Vitamin C – A water soluble vitamin naturally found in skin that protects the inside of the cell. It’s also essential in collagen synthesis and reduces pigmentation. Vitamin C esters don’t have good antioxidant activity, but they still sometimes have the other effects.
Vitamin E – A fat soluble vitamin that protects cell membranes and is regenerated by vitamin C. Also works well as an emollient moisturiser
Coenzyme Q10 (Ubiquinone) – An antioxidant that’s also important in energy production. Declines with age, and is a popular supplement for heart health (though whether it’s effective is uncertain)
You might have heard of polyphenols, flavonoids, isoflavones and anthocyanins before. These are also great antioxidant’s that are found in plants and so are not naturally occurring in the body. Plant are a great source of antioxidants because they are exposed to a vast amount of UV.
Here are some products I’ve tried and tested and loved that contain the antioxidant ingredients: