On Antioxidants


A Skin’s Good Friend

Antioxidants first became popular in the cultural zeitgeist of the 1990’s after it became understood that free radical damage was a factor in coronary diseases, cancer, and a list of other chronic diseases. Soon, antioxidant supplements exploded in Walgreen’s and other similar stores that sold supplements and the larger CPG (consumer packaged goods) companies latched onto antioxidants as a fantastic marketing buzzword pushing products like cereals, granola bars, and juices.

Where “antioxidants” are usually thought of as a singular kind of substance that kills free radicals in any setting, the reality, as usual 🙄, is not as black-and-white as the generalizations we typically learn. “Antioxidants” more correctly refers to a chemical property, it’s the ability to act as an electron donor to a free radical, thereby preventing the free radicals from stealing the electron from a healthy functioning cell. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of such substances with antioxidant properties, but for the sake of clarity, I’ll continue to use the word Antioxidants in the former, more generic way.

It might be helpful to start with what a free radical actually is! Free radicals are unstable molecules that have the nasty ability to damage cells and genetic material through the “stealing” of other cells’ electrons. Through the exposure of oxygen in the body cells come under what is called “oxidative stress” where oxygen has the propensity to split atoms with unpaired electrons. Once oxygen does this to an atom, these now singular electrons (i.e. free radicals) go off and scavenge electrons from other, healthy cells, causing cellular stress and damage.

Substances with antioxidant properties help balance our bodies (and skin) in warding off this cell-destroying free-radical carnage. But not every antioxidant is equal, and they can react differently depending on the environment. Sometimes an antioxidant will actually act as a prooxidant (free radical) depending on what’s around it! Each one has unique biological properties and chemical behaviors, and they almost always work better as a group than individually, therefore no single antioxidant can do the work of the whole crowd.

One of the most important things to understand when talking about antioxidants is that you cannot (and should not) remove all oxidation processes from the body/skin. You need a balance of antioxidants and prooxidants in order for the body to function properly and healthily. When this balance gets thrown off, when there are too many proxidants vs antioxidants, a good dose of supplemental antioxidants will help the body and skin return to equilibrium. Proxidants can signal to the rest of the body that something is off, something needs to be addressed, when they increase significantly in relation to antioxidants. This balance is affected by our everyday lives, so someone living in, say, the countryside with fewer attacks on the Oxidation-Stress Balance (less exposure to sun, physical stress, pollution, second-hand smoke, etc), will likely need less antioxidants than those of us who live in urban centers like New York, Hong Kong, or London.

Understanding the nature of this balance is particularly pertinent to the skin. It is why antioxidants are so popular in skincare. Throughout the day we expose ourselves to different stresses that the skin is our first line of defense to: pollution, weather, sweat, etc. and our bodies do a great job of combating these stresses with the antioxidants they produce through the conversion of food into energy (hence food companies boasting foods with high levels of antioxidants). However, because the skin has several layers (which we go into further depth in our Introduction to the Skin post) these internal antioxidants can have some trouble making it to the outer layer of the skin where external stresses first occur.

This is why a good antioxidant skincare product is essential to prevent these stresses from aging our skin, or at least, minimizing the effects. It’s why we decided to develop a potent antioxidant serum as our first product, to help ward of free radical damage and promote graceful aging through the provision of a daily dose of nutrients. Luckily nature provides excellent sources of antioxidants for us, and the levels at which we need them became the basis for the formula I developed.

In combination with a healthy diet, exercise, and good mental health practices a vibrant antioxidant serum rounds out a strong regimen for reducing oxidative stress and the effects of free radical damage. Something we can all agree is a good thing!

- Carolina


• Ganora, L. (2009) - Herbal Constituents - Foundations of Phytochemistry