We come into this world with healthy cells, but every day the negative effects of free radicals add to the damage of the previous day. In fact, many of the processes we call "ageing" are simply evidence of the minute, cumulative effects of free radical damage on cells and tissues in the skin, heart, blood vessels, brain, and so forth. What are free radicals and, more importantly, how can free radical damage be prevented? The answer lies with antioxidants, the molecules that fight free radicals.
Free radicals are highly reactive, unstable molecules that cause damage to healthy cells, leading to internal ageing as well as visible signs of external aging. Each day, our young, healthy skin is exposed to trillions of free radicals; they are created inside our bodies through normal, necessary chemical reactions and all around us through pollution, UV radiation, x-rays, stress, strenuous exercise, and smoking. Smoking in particular can be harmful: each cigarette releases ten quadrillion free radicals into the lungs. This is why smokers age so much faster than non-smokers.Overexposure to free radicals damages not only our cells' ability to function, but also the integrity of our cells' overall composition, resulting in a next generation of cells that is less healthy and less productive than the cells they came from. In the case of our skin, cells exposure to free radicals can mean that over time our fibroblasts—the cells responsible for collagen and elastin production—work less efficiently to produce the skin protein necessary for skin smoothness, firmness, and elasticity. Although this decrease in collagen and elastin production happens gradually beneath the outermost surface of our skin, it becomes visible sometime in our late 20s or early 30s when we look in the mirror and discover our first wrinkle.
The most common types of free radical in living tissue contain oxygen, and this is why the chemicals we need to neutralise them are called anti-oxidants. The body produces some of the antioxidants it needs, but not enough. Flavonoids and Vitamins A, C and E are all common types of antioxidants, and should be included in our diet as they are beneficial for general health.
By defending our cells against free radicals, antioxidants can help slow the internal and external ageing processes.
Just as health and nutrition experts recommend a high intake of antioxidants from a variety of fruits and vegetables and nutritional supplements, skin care experts recogise the anti-ageing benefits of topically applied madical grade antioxidants. Some skin care products offer antioxidant benefits directly to the skin by including antioxidant-rich vitamins and extracts in their formulations.
There are hundreds of known antioxidants, many of which are plant derived. In order to protect their constantly exposed tissues from free radicals, plants have developed free radical fighting photochemical as a natural defence system. Every plant contains hundreds of photochemical, many of which provide antioxidant protection and fulfil many other essential functions.
Antioxidants work together to fight free radicals directly or to regenerate and support other antioxidants; in other words, antioxidants rely on a network for protection and support. In the antioxidant network, carotenoids are the first line of defence. By destroying free radicals, carotenoids protect and enable other antioxidants to perform their more specific and critical functions.
AntioxidantOnly a small proportion of dietary antioxidants which are absorbed are made available to the skin, and this is why I and many skincare experts also recommend the topical application of antioxidants.
For optimum benefit, I advise a high concentration Vitamin C serum in the morning, Vitamin C being most powerful antioxidant for the skin. SkinCeutical C E Ferulic, Phloretin, Serum 10 depending on your skin type. I also recommend night-time skincare to include Vitamins A and E, plus a flavonoid (Baicalin), and a night time antioxidant such as Resveratrol by Skinceutical.