We’ve all heard of antioxidant creams, serums, lotions and supplements. But what exactly are antioxidants, and what do they mean for our skin? In order to understand antioxidants, it’s best to start with free radicals and oxidation. Essentially, antioxidants are agents that prevent oxidation.
What is Oxidation?
At a basic level, oxidation is a loss of electrons that’s caused by free radicals. Think about when you cut an apple and let it sit there for too long — it eventually starts to turn brown, right? That process is called oxidation, which is an effect of free radicals.
Free radicals are unpaired atoms or molecules that need to stabilize themselves via electrons. When unstable, they seek other molecules and atoms to bond with, to create a chain reaction. During this process, free radicals take electrons for themselves, which causes oxidative stress. With oxidative stress, the body’s cells become damaged, which can lead to illness or even speed up the aging process.
Effects of Free Radical on the Body
Free radicals are capable of damaging the body’s other cells, too — beyond just skin. This process can lead to various health issues such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and even cancer.
As for skin, free radicals can lead to dermatitis. Dermatitis includes common skin irritations such as dry skin, rashes, flakey skin, discoloration and more. It can also lead to skin cancer or speed up the aging process with outcomes like fine lines, marks, wrinkles, uneven skin texture and dark spots.
What Causes Free Radicals?
Free radicals are produced naturally in our body, but external and lifestyle factors can accelerate their production. Pollution, UV rays, chemical treatment to your skin, occupational or environmental exposure to toxic chemicals, and even laser peels can generate free radicals. Diet or lifestyle factors such as smoking, eating fried food, taking certain medications, drinking alcohol, and eating refined carbohydrates and processed foods can lead to an excess of free radicals as well.
Benefits of Antioxidants
Now the good news — incorporating antioxidants into your skin care routine and diet can help fight free radical damage. Antioxidants are chemicals that give free radicals electrons to lessen or prevent their impact on other cells.