It's impossible to talk about antioxidants before explaining briefly what oxidative stress is. But I thought it would be easier to present this topic as bullet points rather than a long-paragraphed article. So, here's a short summary about the importance of antioxidants. Let me know in the comments if you have any other questions.
So, what oxidative stress it and why is it important to our skincare?
Oxidative stress is a state in which there is an excess of free radicals in the body’s cell.
What are free radicals and why are they important?
The body produces free radicals during normal processes, but when it comes into contact with environmental or biological stressors like air pollution, UV rays or certain microbes it reacts by producing them at a higher level. These highly active compounds act by “stealing” electrons from other molecules until they get stable, damaging DNA or cell membranes in the process.
So, are free radicals good or bad?
They are both. We need free radicals and a certain level of oxidative stress to fight of infections and remove faulty cells. But if there is an excess that’s when the problems start. They can break down skin collagen, trigger inflammation and interrupt natural repair processes. Now, here’s when antioxidants enter the stage.
What are antioxidants?
They are compounds that can neutralise free radicals by giving up some of their electrons, protecting our cells from the damage. Our bodies can naturally produce some of them, but we also rely on ingesting antioxidants daily. Nutrition is a major factor when it comes to skincare; we need many different elements to keep it healthy: vitamins, minerals, fatty acids etc.
But we can also apply antioxidant topically to prevent free radicals from contributing to wrinkle, pigmentation and acne development.
How does the application of sunscreen help?
UV rays enhance the production of free radicals in the skin, that’s why sun exposure if one of the factors contributing to premature skin ageing. Dermatologists suggest that sunscreen should be used over products containing antioxidants or as a product combining both.
Antioxidants vs. the skincare
Ideally, we ingest enough antioxidants with our food, that way they can benefit the whole body including our heart and gut. But applying them topically can help protect our skin.
Antioxidants to look out for in the skincare products and their benefits:
Vitamin C is well known for its ability to strengthen the immune system. But it has also been shown to reduce hyperpigmentation, provide protection from sun damage and stimulate collagen production, potentially improving skin elasticity and appearance of wrinkles.
Vitamin E is proven to protect cell membranes from oxidative stress by preserving the integrity of the lipid components of the cells. It reduces the risk of autoimmune skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis, and it protects against sunburn, pigmentation or even, as described in one study, skin cancer.
Vitamin B3 (niacinamide) is shown to reduce inflammation and help strengthen the skin barrier, but also reduce pigmentation and redness. It has been effective at treating acne, dermatitis and rosacea.
Vitamin D is vital to our health by strengthening our immune system (not to mention our bones), but it is also important for healthy skin. It has been shown to stimulate growth of the main skin cells responsible for healing and damage repair, but it also reduces photo-induced damage and inflammation.
Vitamin A, retinols and carotenoids – this group of compounds plays many important roles in our body, but it is incredibly beneficial to our skin. Research showed that it can reduce the risk of skin cancer, psoriasis and acne, protect from UV damage and can stimulate collagen production improving the appearance of wrinkles and skin elasticity.
Polyphenols including resveratrol, flavonoids and green tea polyphenols are all found in plant-based foods and are very beneficial when ingested. In the skincare they have been shown to protect against UV-induced damage, skin infections and skin cancer.
Are antioxidants safe to use in everyday skin routine?
It’s always a good idea to consult a dermatologist before using skincare containing active ingredients. Generally speaking though, antioxidants are safe and very beneficial to the skin. Antioxidants from the retinol group are the only exception, they are extremely effective but can cause an irritant reaction and their use should always be consulted with a professional. But one thing to remember is to ALWAYS use a sunscreen on top of your daily skincare, regardless of the active ingredient that you're using. Even better, add it as your daily essential!