Free Radicals On the Loose

Updated: Jun 3, 2020

Have you ever cut an apple or an avocado and within 5-10 minutes it is turning brown? Why don’t pre-sliced versions at the store turn brown? They aren’t special magical apples and avocados; they have been treated with antioxidants. Antioxidants are substances that protect cells from environmental damage caused by oxidation. These powerful compounds break the chain reaction that causes the release of free radicals that disrupt cell function and cause visible signs of aging. Oxidation is a normal function of cells, but when there are more free radicals than the body can process it causes oxidative stress and eventually oxidative damage. Are you thinking: “oxidation,” “free radicals,” English, please? I like to help others understand things completely, so let me explain. Oxygen atoms have paired electrons (like Siamese twins), and when those electrons are exposed to environmental stressors like UV rays and pollution, the electron pair is broken apart and there is a rogue electron or free radical on the loose. When there are enough free radicals present, they break down cellular functions and the health of the cell is compromised. In order to combat this process, Antioxidants or substances that absorb the rogue electrons, are applied, or consumed. Let’s go back to the apple and avocado. If you squeeze lemon on the cut fruit it won’t turn brown because lemon is filled with Ascorbic acid or Vitamin C which is an excellent antioxidant. The ascorbic acid gobbles up the free radicals before they cause enough damage to turn the apple or avocado brown.

Antioxidants for the skin come in many forms including food, drinks, supplements, serums, and creams. I’ve often been asked why a person might need to use a topical antioxidant when they are already taking a supplement or eating an antioxidant rich diet. When you ingest a supplemental nutrient such as Vitamin C, it is utilized by your internal systems to aid in reducing oxidative stress. While trace amounts of the vitamin will be used in the skin, most of it will be distributed to areas of need within the body. Your skin is an organ that you have direct access to. You can feed it directly. It has the ability to absorb and metabolize nutrients without losing any to other organs. Take advantage of this gift! Unlike your food and drink habits, this is a diet that is easy to control. We have all studied enough nutrition in our lives to know that your body requires foods containing specific nutrients to run efficiently…the same is true for your skin. Healthy skin needs cellular turn over for correction of past damage, antioxidants to protect cells and help prevent future damage, hydration to lubricate cells so they can function properly, and SPF to protect against skin’s greatest foe…UV damage. These are the basics, and certainly there is more to it, but from a provider’s standpoint this is a complete skincare regimen. Furthermore, sunscreen of any brand or SPF level only protects from about 80% of UV damage. Antioxidants, help fill in that last 20% gap. They are, in my opinion, an integral part of your daily routine.

So where can you find these amazing ingredients? Let me start by stating that not all antioxidants are created equally. Some are better than others at absorbing those free radicals. There are several different tests for oxygen radical absorbance that help determine how effective the antioxidant is in different circumstances. Most often in skincare the ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) method is used. I should also mention that many antioxidants are notoriously unstable in heat and sunlight, so they need to be packaged and delivered in a way that won’t compromise their chemical integrity. Commonly used antioxidants in skincare are often packaged in dark colored glass or airless pump containers to help preserve their functionality. For this reason alone, you should not bargain shop for your Vitamin C, Vitamin A (retinol), Vitamin E, VitaminB3 (Niacinamide), or any other antioxidant. This is where you invest in your skin. If you are on a limited budget for skin care I would advise you to add to your regimen slowly. Buy one product at a time and start with the game changing serums and antioxidants. You can skimp on cleanser and moisturizer until you are able to add those less potent products.

Is your face falling and it can’t get up? Do you have sunspots that seem to appear overnight? Are the fine lines starting to become not so fine lines that resemble a road atlas? Good antioxidants will come to the rescue! My favorite antioxidant product is Skin Better Science Alto Defense which contains 19 different supercharged antioxidant ingredients. The company did clinical studies that show visible improvement in as little as 2 weeks after starting use which is about 6 weeks sooner than its competitors. My runner up is Jan Marini C-Esta Serum. It is rich in Vitamin C and DMEA or dimethylaminoethanol which firms skin and reduces inflammation and, as a side note, smells so good. If I could afford it, I would take a bath in C-Esta Serum. Many of my patients love Skin Medica TNS Essential Serum. This product is a powerful dual formula containing peptides for tightening, antioxidants, and human fibroblast growth factors to support cellular division. I love the effects of this product but can’t tolerate the smell of it as a matter of personal preference. Expect to spend $100 or more for a good antioxidant. Good science comes at a price, but it is absolutely worth every penny.

Antioxidants should be your first step after cleansing. You should try to store your antioxidant in a cool, dry, and preferably dark place to help keep it from spoiling. With enough oxygen exposure, even an antioxidant can oxidize and go bad. Give your skin the protection and support it needs with the introduction of super powered, modern-day youth serum, and invest in antioxidants.

BONUS** Get $10 off the purchase of any antioxidant throughout the month of June at The Skin and Laser Center

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