On a daily basis your skin is in a war zone. A natural but disruptive process called oxidation, the loss of an electron from an atom or molecule, results in free radicals—the assailants of good skin. Antioxidants, the body's crime fighters against aging skin, are your first line of defense. Learn how they tackle stressors and how to include them in your anti-aging arsenal.
How do free radicals threaten skin?
Normally the body’s electrons come in pairs but some atoms and molecules exist with an unpaired electron, making them extremely unstable. Known as free radicals, these scavengers try to steal other electrons, creating a destructive chain reaction. By stealing one electron, they only further the cycle of unpaired, unstable electrons.
This electron “stealing” pattern wreaks havoc on living cells, damaging DNA and leaving your skin vulnerable to environmental stress. Pollution, car exhaust, smoking, ultraviolet rays, radiation and pesticides are all free radicals.
How can my skin fight back?
When it comes to defense, antioxidants are super-troopers. The agents of good health and great skin, antioxidants defend your cells and maintain damage control. By donating one of their own electrons, antioxidants put an end to this electron "stealing," acting as a buffer and stabilizing free radicals.
Many antioxidants can defend your cells from environmental wear and tear. Keep your bathroom cabinet armed with these key ingredients and your skin will thank you.
- Vitamin C: Retains moisture in your skin and promotes collagen and elastin. Vitamin C protects the skin against harmful UV rays, particularly when combined with vitamin E and sunscreen.
- Vitamin E: Protects lipids—the building blocks of cell membranes. Vitamin E also offsets dryness, keeping skin smooth.
- Glutathione: Keeps your immune system in peak performance by maintaining healthy red and white blood cells. Glutathione is composed of three amino acids: cysteine, glutamic acid and glycine and is the most abundant antioxidant your body carries. Low levels of glutathione leave the body susceptible to damage from free radicals.
- Pomegranate: A powerful antioxidant, pomegranate contains ellagic acid, a major age-proofing agent that prevents sun damage and stimulates glutathione, writes renowned dermatologist Howard Murad, M.D., in an article on his Web site. He also explains that pomegranate naturally boosts your sunscreen’s SPF.
- Coenzyme Q10: Increases collagen and elastin in the skin and helps to protect it from sun damage. Levels of CoQ10 tend to drop in people over 30 years old. Supplements and topical creams with CoQ10 can keep your skin looking younger longer.
- Idebenone: Though its chemical make-up is similar to coenzyme Q10, idebenone might be a more powerful combatant against free radicals, making it an effective anti-aging product.
- Grape seed extract: Combats free radicals and also "reinforce[s] the structural fibers of the skin, collagen and elastin," writes Dr. Murad.
A mighty ally: Alpha lipoic acid
While antioxidants fight to maintain a smoother and healthier epidermis, one in particular serves as a super supporter of great skin.
Discovered by scientists in the 1950s and noted as an antioxidant in 1988, alpha lipoic acid, or ALA, is invaluable to healthy skin. Unlike vitamin C (water soluble) and vitamin E (fat soluble), ALA penetrates both oil and water, working on skin on the inside and out, according to WebMD.
Among its benefits, ALA appears to be effective in treating fine lines and maintaining healthy skin overall. Prominent dermatologist, N.V. Perricone, M.D., has observed that his ALA formulation "has been of particular benefit to my patients with a lot of sun damage, deep lines and wrinkles, enlarged pores and loss of radiance, tone and resilience."
In addition, ALA might also assist other antioxidants in defending skin against environmental stressors, according to WebMD, and protecting it from sun damage.
Your antioxidant arsenal
It’s easy to incorporate antioxidants into your routine. Try these tips and tricks for getting your necessary nutrients.
- Look for moisturizers and sunscreens containing both vitamin C and vitamin E to ensure added protection for your face. Check out the Jan Marini Antioxidant line, including Jan Marnini Recover-E. You can also protect your skin with Murad Waterproof Sunblock SPF 30, a broad spectrum sunscreen that contains pomegranate.
- Packed with grape seed extract as well as vitamin C and vitamin E, Bliss All Around Eye Cream reduces fine lines and keeps your skin supple.
- Make the N.V. Perricone Advanced Face Firming Activator part of your skin regimen. It smoothes and hydrates the skin and contains green tea extract to calm and refresh your complexion. Your skin also receives glycolic acid to speed up cell renewal and a strong dose of ALA to minimize fine lines and wrinkles.
Also, try Janson Beckett AlphaDerma CE. Among its ingredients are ALA and vitamin C ester that work to reduce fine lines and wrinkles.
- Minimize the appearance of fine lines with Elizabeth Arden’s Prevage Anti-Aging Treatment. Containing idebenone, this formula protects skin from harsh environmental elements and helps to restore it.
- Serums are vital for delivering nutrients to your skin and can penetrate deeper than moisturizer. For an excellent serum solution, try MD Skincare Hydra-Pure Antioxidant Firming Serum.
Topical tales and truths
Some products promise many a miraculous claim, so it’s important to recognize what topical antioxidants can and can’t do. While they play an active role in healthy skin, antioxidants aren’t miracle workers.
What they don’t do: Topical antioxidants can’t make wrinkles disappear or repair damaged cells.
They can’t guarantee a wrinkle-free face or reverse the effects of pollution and smoking.
And though many consumers believe vitamin E lessens the appearance of scars, studies show that’s a common misconception. In a study of 159 people with burn scars, vitamin E cream demonstrated no noticeable improvements on the scars, reports The New York Times. In another study among people who had minor surgery, vitamin E didn’t improve the skin and even caused an allergic reaction in nearly a third of the patients, according to the article.
So, toss out those vitamin E gel caps your mother told you to apply to soccer scars. Also, keep in mind that vitamin C products can become inactive when exposed to light, heat or oxygen.
What they can do: Antioxidants supply the skin with moisture, allowing skin to stay smooth and fine lines subtle. For instance, vitamin C is a key contributor in maintaining skin moisture. Also, research suggests antioxidants can help to shield skin from sun damage. So, go for sunscreens with vitamin E and C for added protection.
Bottom line: Your skin is constantly in battle, always having to fight free radicals. So, arm your skin with weapons to conquer these unstable atoms. With amazing advancements in skincare, products rich in antioxidants can be those weapons, giving you radiant, healthier skin. Don’t let your skin weather the elements alone. Find the right antioxidant line for your game face and there’s bound to be cheers all around.
Learn everything you need to know about anti-aging skincare in our Anti-Aging Handbook.