How antioxidants can fit in with your skin-care routine: 101

One question I hear routinely from my clients is, “what are free radicals and how do I combat these within my daily skin-care routine.”  A cursory trip down the aisle of any pharmacy or supermarket reveals a plethora of products claiming to combat free radical damage. So, in a effort to demystify some of the marketing jargon, this week’s post is a quick 101 on free-radicals, antioxidants and the many ways we can inhibit the damage caused, both through diet and good skin-care.

What are free-radicals?  Put simply, free radicals are molecules that have become faulty or unstable due to a missing electron. To remedy this state of unbalance, the rogue molecule looks to fill the missing space by ‘stealing’ an electron from a neighbouring cell in your body. This then leads to oxidisation (similar to rusting) of the cell, culminating in DNA damage or death of that cell.

What do the free radicals do to your skin?  It is widely accepted that free-radicals contribute to the overall ageing process and are the major cause of the many visible signs of skin issues including loss of elasticity, fine lines, hyper pigmentation and loss of collagen. The more free radicals we have roaming our bodies, the faster our skin ages.

So how are free radicals created?  Unfortunately, pretty much all of our day-to-day living presents challenges to the skin including:

• direct exposure to UV rays (sunlight)

• stress

• dietary deficiencies

• alcohol

• pollution

• inflammation

How do antioxidants help in the fight against free radical damage?  Our bodies are constantly producing free radicals and whilst we cannot totally eliminate them, it is imperative that we minimise the production of these harmful molecules.  This is where antioxidants come into play as these little powerhouses effectively neutralise free radicals and put a stop to the destructive chain reaction that is created when one electron steals from another healthy electron.

Where do we find antioxidants?  Antioxidants are found in a diet rich in vegetables, grains, fruit. The anti-aging industry has spent millions researching the powers of antioxidants and many skincare products are now able to effectively inhibit free-radical formation.

My recommendations for fighting the effects of free-radicals:

As my clients know, I firmly advocate the long list of benefits that a super intensive skin care regime can deliver but obtaining your vitamins and minerals from their natural source is also extremely important. A quick snapshot of the two best natural sources of antioxidants:

Vitamin C: The Kakadu Plum. Vitamin C is particularly important for sustaining regular collagen production and supporting the elasticity in the skin, that is what helps to keep us look young and vibrant. Studies show the concentration of vitamin C in kakadu plum to be as high as 3200-5000mg/100g (compared with 50mg/100g for oranges).  Kakadu plums display superior oxygen radical-scavenging capacity (ORAC). The ORAC scale is often used to determine how strong of an antioxidant a food is. For example, Kakadu plums have displayed up to 13 times greater ORAC values than that of blueberries.  When searching for Kakadu plum products for your beauty and dietary needs, remember the stability of vitamin C is greatly affected by heat. Do your research to make sure a low heat has been used during the extraction process (below 70C), therefore sustaining the potency of vitamin C within this incredible fruit.

Resveratrol: Regarded by many as the magic bullet against anti-aging, resveratrol is found infoods such as grapes, peanuts, fruits, and red wine. Studies have also shown it also inhibits tumour development. The American Journal of Clinical Dermatology in 2011 published a study which found that people who used a topical gel containing resveratrol on their skin for 30 days benefited with reduced acne by more than 50 percent. Furthermore, a 2012 study found that oral supplementation also resulted in improvements in participants skin: skin was more moist, had improved elasticity, and they also showed a decrease in age spots. If you opt to take a resveratrol supplement, there are numerous products on the market. Be sure to look for one made from muscadine grapes that uses WHOLE grape skins and seeds, as this is where many of the benefits are concentrated.