Free Radical Protection
By Cynthia Bailey MD. This page was updated on Tue, Oct 15, 2019
Dermatologist explains why free radicals are bad for your skin and how antioxidants help.
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.
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. In the process, they damage things - 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?
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.
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.
My Retinol Night Cream™ has this same amount of green tea polyphenol antioxidants along with retinol. My Advanced Corrective Eye Cream™ does too. All three of these products offer the highest level of antioxidant skin care you can find.
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.
Get my Vitamin C Serum and Green Tea Cream together in my popular Anti-Aging Antioxidant Skin Care Kit. The kit includes an exfoliating clay scrub and a powerful pure mineral zinc oxide sunscreen to fight skin aging.
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.