What are Antioxidants? Chemistry, Free Radicals & Your Skin

Chemistry, Free Radicals & Your Skin

In the world of anti-aging skin care, antioxidants are often touted as miracle molecules that can keep you looking young and vibrant. Advertisements contain breathless lines like, “Product X is infused with free radical-busting antioxidants!”

The claims aren’t all bluster. Some scientists believe that antioxidants are useful allies when it comes to protecting skin from the signs of aging – particularly wrinkles. Unfortunately, marketing copy doesn’t usually explain how they may benefit you, what they are, or why you should be concerned with free radicals in the first place.

To gain a basic understanding of what antioxidants bring to the table, we need to talk chemistry. Don’t worry – we’ve boiled it down to the core concepts, and there isn’t a test at the end. Let’s start with the “bad guys” in this story, the molecules known as free radicals.

Free Radicals & Your Cells

From a chemical perspective, free radicals are molecules that contain an unpaired electron. What does this mean to you? That single electron makes free radicals highly reactive. If your cells bump into a free radical – and they will – that instability can result in nasty consequences, like damaging your DNA.

Now we don’t want to creep you out, but free radicals are created inside your body. In fact, some free radicals are necessary for normal biological processes. However, external influences such as pollution, UV radiation, and tobacco smoke can cause chemical reactions in your cells that produce unneeded free radicals. The end result can be new wrinkles on older-looking skin.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, young people’s bodies are better able to cope with the onslaught of free radicals. As we age, our body’s defenses become less effective. What can we do to keep the fight going against free radicals? That’s where antioxidants come in.

Antioxidants to the Rescue

Simply put, antioxidants are molecules that step in and stop the creation of free radicals. There are several powerhouse antioxidants, including vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin E. Our bodies can collect these molecules from various sources, including foods. Skin care products deliver them in topical creams and lotions.

What can you expect from an anti-aging cream that contains antioxidants? The goal is to interrupt the production of free radicals brought about by external factors. This prevents cellular damage, which can stop new wrinkles from appearing.

It’s important to realize that the antioxidants used in skin care products vary, along with their concentrations. For this reason, you may see different results from one cream to the next.

Antioxidants You Can Eat

Many fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants. Grapes, blueberries and nuts are just a few foods to consider adding to your diet. Eating smart is a delicious way to help your body combat free radicals.

Don’t Forget Your Sunscreen

Antioxidants aren’t the only tools you have to manage free radicals. Wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen can shield your skin from UV rays that promote their formation. The sun has been implicated as a major case of premature aging, not to mention skin cancer, so adding sunscreen to your daily regimen is recommended by the AAD.

Now that you have a better understanding of what antioxidants do, you’re better equipped to evaluate your skin care regimen. If you aren’t using products with antioxidants, consider adding at least one. You may be in store for a pleasant surprise!