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Free Radical Protection

By Cynthia Bailey MD.

free radical protection of skin expert tips

Free radical protection of your skin is important. That's because free radicals attack and destroy skin structures. They are involved in all aspects of skin misadventures that lead to complexion problems including sun damage, wrinkles, skin aging, skin cancer, inflammation and more.

Dermatologist explains why free radicals are bad for your skin and how antioxidants help.

Free radicals are chemical species possessing an unpaired electron, meaning they are a half of a molecule. This is inherently unstable and they rabidly look to grab another electron off of neighboring chemicals.
How antioxidants protect your skin from free radical damage

In the process of grabbing an electron, free radicals damage the thing that they grabbed it from - like components of precious skin structures including mitochondria, DNA, RNA, fibroblasts etc. Your skin has repair mechanisms but these are easily exhausted. Your skin also has an antioxidant reserve to fight free radicals, but this reserve is depleted after 10-40 minutes of UV ray exposure depending on your skin type.  

What causes free radicals in the skin?

It is estimated that 80% of skin free radicals come from UV sun exposure. They also form from stressors such as poor nutrition, physical and psychological stress, overeating, alcohol intake and environmental pollution. They are produced as part of normal physiologic processes too. 

How do you fight free radicals in your skin?

green tea antioxidants are good for skin

The unstable free radicals are neutralized by your skin's antioxidant reserve. When free radical formation exceeds your antioxidants, damage happens. Your skin gets its antioxidants mostly from your diet - hopefully! We now have topical antioxidants that have been shown to help too. 

How do you get more antioxidants into your skin to fight skin aging and damage? 

Replenish your antioxidant supply daily to fight free radical health and complexion damage with a healthy diet rich in fresh fruits and veggies. Load your skin with more than you can supply from your diet using antioxidant-rich skin care products.

What are the best skin care antioxidants for your skin?

Skin care antioxidants with the best scientific evidence for fighting complexion problems and skin aging include,

  • Green tea polyphenols
    • They are more potent than Vitamin C or E at neutralizing free radicals.
    • They have anti-inflammatory and reduce skin redness
    • They have proven anti-cancer benefits.
    • They can inhibit the breakdown of collagen.
    • They reduce skin immune suppression (Langerhans cell depletion).
  •  Vitamin C
    • It neutralizes free radicals and help regenerate vitamin E.
    • It is a necessary cofactor for enzymes needed for collagen synthesis.
    • It helps to reduce pigment darkening by inhibiting tyrosinase, an enzyme needed for melanin production.
    • Reduces the breakdown of collagen. 
    • Reduces sunburn redness, sunburn cells (skin cells damaged by UV) and skin UV immune suppression.
  • Vitamin E
    • Is easily deleted by free radicals
    • Helps fight free radical lipid membrane damage, skin aging, immune suppression, DNA damage and collagen breakdown.
    • Works best when combined with vitamin C.

What are the best antioxidant skin care products?

Antioxidants such as vitamin E are often added to sunscreens because they have shown synergy for preventing sun damage. These are good, but not a replacement for a powerful antioxidant skin care product. Also, most antioxidants are destroyed by contact with oxygen.

For serious antioxidant skin loading you want a stable, high concentration, professional antioxidant skin care product that is dispensed in an airtight container.

You want to use products protected from oxygen and light and formulated by pharmaceutical chemists who know how to stabilize and deliver the antioxidants through the skin. This means that you need to be a savvy consumer and not fooled by what I call a “fairy dusting” of antioxidants added to products for marketing appeal. 

best antioxidant skin care product

My Green Tea Antioxidant Skin Therapy™ is loaded with the right green tea polyphenol antioxidants - the equivalent of 500 cups worth per ounce of cream. If you were going to pick just one antioxidant product this would be my top choice! I never travel without it and I use it every day as part of my facial skin care routine.

Retinol is a powerful antioxidant in the vitamin A family. My Retinol Night Cream™ has the highest allowed levels of retinol combined with the same pure green tea polyphenol antioxidants.

My Advanced Corrective Eye Cream™ combines retinol vitamins C and E and niacinamide (another great antioxidant for skin care) at levels appropriate for the eye area, along with the same green tea antioxidants.

All three of these products offer the highest level of antioxidant skin care you can find.  

best retinol with antioxidants for skin carebest eye cream with antioxidants

best vitamin C antioxidant skin care face serum

My Vitamin C Anti-Wrinkle Professional Treatment Serum™ has high concentration, stable vitamin C in the right L-ascorbic form. All of these products are dispensed in air tight containers. They are the superstars of my antioxidant skin care products and I've watched them help my patients for many, many years. I use them daily on my own face too.

Many of my other products also contain antioxidants. The levels are good, but lower, and the containers are not airtight. For real antioxidant powerhouse products, you want to use one or all of the 4 products I mentioned above.    

Best antioxidant sun protection for you facial skin

best antioxidant kit for face skin care

I've combined the best antioxidant products with zinc oxide sunscreens rich in the right antioxidants to help prevent UV damage in my Anti-Aging Antioxidant Facial Skin Care Kit. Green Tea Antioxidant Skin Therapy, Vitamin C Professional Treatment Serum and Sheer Strength Pure Physical Sunscreen - know that you are using the best antioxidants known to help fend off UV induced free radical damage including: 

  • Green tea polyphenols
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin E
  • Resveratrol
  • CoQ 10
  • Emblica fruit extract (gooseberry)
  • Biotin
  • Zinc Oxide mineral UV protection


Poljsak B, Dahmane R, Free Radicals and Extrinsic Skin Aging, Dermatol Res Pract., 2012; 13526. Feb 29, 2012

Katayar SK, Green tea prevents non-melanoma skin cancer by enhancing DNA repair. Arch Biochem Biophys. 2011 Apr 15;508(2):152-8.