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What Are Free Radicals and Why Are They Bad For Your Skin

May 12, 2020

The Truth About Free Radicals, Antioxidants, and Your Skin 

The sun is out, spring is here, and summer is just around the corner—which means, it’s time to talk free radicals! Now, unfortunately for all of us, “free radicals” is not the name of an epic 1980’s hair band that opened for Guns n Roses on their first world tour—in fact, quite the opposite. Free radicals are a result of oxidative stress inside our bodies. Simply put, when oxidative stress occurs, oxygen splits into single atoms with unpaired electrons called free radicals. These rogue and lonely electrons scavenge the body seeking their electron soul mate, which in turn damages cells, proteins, and DNA.


But what does all this free radical havoc mean for your skin? According to the “free radical theory of aging,” the damage to our cells, proteins, and DNA by free radicals can lead to rapid aging as well as a litany of other skin disorders, including acne. When our skin and bodies are consistently inundated each day by outside factors that cause free radicals to form (air pollution, unhealthy diet), the more damage is done, resulting in frequent and increasingly serious skin issues.


So, How Do We Defend Against Free Radicals?


Our bodies undergo oxidative stress brought on from our environment and lifestyle on a daily basis. No one can truly be exempt from free radicals—even if we were able to wipe pollution off the face of the earth, we’d still have to deal with oxidative stress in one way or another. What’s important is recognizing the threat free radicals pose, and taking the necessary steps to reduce and prevent damage now.  Which brings us to antioxidants. Antioxidants are molecules stable enough to donate an electron to a rampaging free radical. When used in skincare, antioxidants can delay or inhibit cellular damage and safely interact with free radicals to disrupt cellular reaction before vital molecules are damaged. 


Vitamin C to the Rescue

So, naturally, the first step to ensuring your skin isn’t ravaged by free radicals is to find skincare products rich in antioxidants like Vitamin C and Vitamin E and that include Ferulic acid. But what does Ferulic acid have to do with free radicals? Ferulic acid helps boosts the effects of Vitamin C and E, and can also reduce inflammation, brown spots, and the formation of fine lines and wrinkles, as well as even out skin tone. And remember, it’s not just about using skincare products with the right combination of antioxidants. A healthy antioxidant-rich diet can benefit your entire body and possibly minimize several other potential disorders.


Another buzzword right now in the fight against free radicals is a polyphenol called resveratrol.  Resveratrol has been intensely studied for its pleiotropic (multiple) biological effects, and has been linked to anti-aging as well as supporting the cardiovascular and neurological systems. And because of its strong antioxidative properties, it has become an essential element of a healthy skincare routine.  While resveratrol fights free radicals and strengthens skin by boosting collagen and elastin, it’s still important to find products that use a combination of helpful ingredients and supplemental antioxidants that work symbiotically to create a strong line of defense against oxidative stress. Look for products that not only include resveratrol but also other beneficial ingredients, like Azelaic acid, that will both bolster your skin and revitalize your overall complexion.


Finally, free radicals and oxidative stress not only disrupt our bodies’ natural cellular activities, but also damage sebum (skin oils) in a process called lipid peroxidation, causing inflammation that leads to breakouts and acne. By using an anti-acne product with powerful antioxidants, you can ratchet-up your skin’s defense to the harmful, uncomfortable, and sometimes embarrassing effects free radicals have on our external features. Take the time to find the right acne product that will not only alleviate inflammation today, but will also prevent further flare-ups, breakouts, and free radical buildup in the future.


It’s time to fight back against free radicals. Lucky for you, there are products out there loaded with powerful antioxidants and effective natural ingredients designed to create healthy, radiant, and resilient skin, while simultaneously preventing any further damage the environment may inflict upon us.


Savy Guthrie has been a PA working in dermatology for 18 years and has worked in medicine for 21 years overall.  She has treated tens of thousands of patients, helping them achieve healthy, beautiful skin. 


Savy with her dog

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