Antioxidants. Undoubtedly you’ve heard the buzzword before, and you probably know that they’re a good thing. But why? What do antioxidants do in our bodies and how are they so powerful in the fight against ageing?
Let’s look closely at why we age, the way antioxidants work on a scientific level, and some of the huge aesthetic and health benefits they can offer us! I’ll also give you some recommendations for fantastic antioxidant products you can try to take your skin care routine up a notch. So if you’re interested in learning more, let’s go!
What are antioxidants?
First and foremost, let’s quickly discuss what an antioxidant is. Antioxidants are molecules that prevent damage caused by free radicals in our bodies. In this way they slow down a multitude of age and lifestyle related conditions and help us live longer and healthier. Lucky for us, this also extends to the quality and health of our skin!
How does the ageing process work?
Free radicals & cellular damage
To learn how antioxidants interact with our cells and fight ageing, you must have an understanding of what causes it. Here’s another word you’ve probably heard before – free radicals.
Free radicals exist both in the environment and as produced by our cells. The damage they cause is thanks to their missing electrons, causing them to attack other molecules like proteins to steal their electrons and make themselves whole again. The new molecule then becomes a free radical, and the cycle continues. This is called an oxidation reaction.
These reactions in turn causes permanent cellular damage to DNA. This leads to ‘errors’ in our cells, and a reduction in healthy body function. Over time, this degrades the quality of our bodies’ organs and tissues, as they become unable to replicate the same way they used to. This cellular damage is one of the key elements of the ageing process.
So what creates these free radicals?
You might be wondering if it’s possible to just avoid free radicals. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. A lot of the things that either trigger free radical production in the body or are free radicals themselves are common, everyday things that are to a degree unavoidable. The list includes:
- living (natural body functions e.g. metabolism)
- poor diet
How do antioxidants work to counteract free radicals and ageing?
If free radicals are more or less unavoidable, then we need to turn to something else to help buffer our bodies against the onslaught of daily harm. That’s where antioxidants come in. The job of these micronutrients is to ‘neutralise’ free radicals, preventing them from causing any damage to our cells in the first place. Antioxidants have spare electrons that they don’t need and can give away happily. They donate these spare electrons to electron-hungry free radicals to interrupt the oxidation chain reaction and stop cellular damage from spreading. There are many different kinds of antioxidants that are all slightly different, but their overall effect is the same.
What visible benefits and results do antioxidants give?
It’s all well and good that antioxidants will slow down overall ageing and damage to our bodies, but what about our skin? Well, as a result of neutralising cell-damaging free radicals in the body, antioxidants prevent many of the breakdowns of tissue and cell function that support the skin. This includes collagen, melanin, and more. Over time, breakdown of these cells creates the following issues:
- fine lines & wrinkles
- loss of firmness & elasticity
- loss of volume
- skin cancer
By treating the root cause of all these issues (cellular damage), studies have shown that antioxidants create improvement in all these areas.
Recommended antioxidant ingredients and products
Finally, we’ve reached my favourite part – the products! This is where you’ll be able to take what you’ve learnt and apply it (pun intended) to your routine to reap the benefits of antioxidants. We produce all sorts antioxidants naturally inside us (glutathione, lipod acid, uric acid, carotenes, ubiquinol and enzymes such as catalase) and eat several others (Vitamin A, C and E).
For overall body health, many believe antioxidants are key. Whether that’s true or not, it’s a good idea to have a varied diet and trying to eat many different kinds of antioxidants certainly encourages this!
I personally LOVE green tea the most because it tastes great, can be drunk at any time and is absolutely packed with antioxidants. Matcha is the best as it is the least processed.
Some other suggestions for antioxidants rich foods to incorporate into your diet are:
- tree nuts
But for aesthetic purposes, nothing beats using antioxidants topically to help ease the pressure that daily exposure to the elements and pollution puts on our skin. There are many different antioxidant products available on the market. Here are a few to get you started on your search:
Perhaps the most well-known antioxidant product is Vitamin C serum, touted for brightening pigmentation and increasing collagen production. The Ordinary, Mad Hippie, and more offer these serums. Vitamin C must be at the correct pH to work, so do your research before you buy any Vitamin C product!
As my antioxidant of choice, I personally use The Ordinary’s Alpha-Lipoic Acid (ALA). ALA is said to reduce inflammation and regenerate other antioxidants like vitamins C, E and glutathione. This product is a runny, slightly smoky scented liquid that feels warm and tingly on application. And at a super cheap price, why not?
Resveratrol (available at SkinCeuticals and Caudalie) is what gives red wine its reputation for being good for heart health. It’s thought to be one of the most effective antioxidants around, but it plays hard to get and can be tricky to stabilise in a skin care formula, making it a more expensive option.
And finally, Vitamin A, the king of anti-ageing. While in most forms it’s usually not technically an antioxidant, I think it warrants a mention in this post. Found under the guise of retinaldehyde, retinol, retinoid and tretinoin, this amazing ingredient teaches your skin cells how to be healthy again, reversing acne, texture, wrinkles, pigmentation and loss of volume. I hear great things about The Ordinary’s Granactive Retinoid 2% but there are tons of options out there.
And as always, remember to always research your products before buying – find out the percentages that have yielded results, whether these ingredients need certain environments like an acidic pH or a stabilising ingredient, and see what prices are fair and reasonable. Good luck on your antioxidant journeys and I’ll see you next time!