Antioxidants are substances that inhibit oxidation by removing or preventing oxidizing agents from working. Oxidation in the skin is when the skin cells lose electrons, creating free radicals and damaging the cells by causing inflammation and ultimately cell death. Oxidative stress is when there amount of oxidizing agents or oxidants are higher than the skin’s antioxidant defense system capacity. This leads to chronic inflammation, which can cause collagen fragmentation and disorganization of collagen fibers and skin cell functions, and thus contribute to skin aging as well as skin diseases including cancer.
Oxidation and oxidative stress is most commonly the result of sun (UVA and UVB) exposure as well as exposure to environmental pollutants (ozone, vehicle fumes, cigarette smoke etc.)
What does this mean for you and why is it important? If you want to have healthy, beautiful skin and you take good care of your skin, you should not only be preventing as much skin damage as possible from free radicals (aka oxidative stress) but you should also be treating the damage that is unavoidable in everyday life. Sunscreen alone won’t provide your skin with the full protection it needs from free radicals, and won’t repair the damage that has already been done -- this is where antioxidants come into play as they fight free radical damage, and they have a critical role in an effective skincare regimen.
Vitamins C & E
Vitamins C & E are probably the most well known antioxidants used in skincare and also, when formulated well and used in their most stable forms, are also some of the most effective antioxidants available.
Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that can neutralize free radicals. The antioxidant properties of vitamin C (ascorbic acid) and its role in collagen synthesis make vitamin C a vital molecule for skin health. Dietary and topical ascorbic acid have beneficial effects on skin cells, and some studies have shown that vitamin C may help prevent and treat UV induced skin damage.
As effective as Vitamin C is, it does come with drawbacks. Vitamin C is highly unstable and breaks down in UV light as well as in the presence of oxidizing skincare ingredients such as benzoyl peroxide (used to treat acne). To make sure the Vitamin C product you are purchasing is actually going to work and still has the percentage of Vitamin C in it that it was formulated with, be sure to look for a high quality formulation that is in an opaque, air tight container (think: bottle or tube with a pump) and that contains stabilized forms of Vitamin C.
L-ascorbic acid and sodium ascorbyl phosphate are water-soluble forms of Vitamin C, meaning they’re more likely to show up in products that are lighter and better suited to oilier skin. Ascorbyl palmitate and tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate are lipid-soluble forms of Vitamin C and are often used in more moisturizing products suitable for drier skin.
Vitamin E is a vitamin, but it also refers to a group of compounds - eight in all - of which tocopheryl acetate, tocopherols and tocotrienols are the ones most commonly used in skincare. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that helps repair damaged cells, helps support the immune system, cell function, and skin health. It's antioxidant profile makes it effective at combating the effects of free radicals on the skin. Vitamin E is also beneficial at reducing UV damage to skin. Look for skincare products that contain multiple forms or complexes of Vitamin E - including different tocopherols and tocotrienol isomers (alpha, beta, gamma and delta).
Plant derived antioxidants
Plant-derived antioxidants are a large group of natural products with reducing or radical-scavenging capacity. Due to their potent preventive, as well as therapeutic actions, these compounds receive a great deal of attention by not only scientists but also pharmacologists and physicians. And skincare chemists have not been far behind, understanding just how beneficial these compounds are in topical formulations. All of the following plant derived antioxidants work on different mechanisms in the skin to help prevent UV induced skin damage.
Polyphenols: These are beneficial plant compounds with powerful antioxidant properties that help keep the skin healthy. They can be subdivided into flavonoids, phenolic acid, polyphenolic amides, and other polyphenols.
Flavonoids: These are a diverse group of phytonutrients (plant chemicals) found in almost all fruits and vegetables. Along with carotenoids, they are responsible for the vivid colors in fruits and vegetables. Like other phytonutrients, flavonoids are powerful antioxidants with anti-inflammatory and immune system benefits. Commonly used flavonoids include: Resveratrol, Quercetin, Malvidin and Cyanidin derivatives.
Carotenoids: These are plant pigments responsible for bright red, yellow and orange hues. Carotenoids help stimulate epidermal regeneration helping to soften and smooth skin. They also reduce water loss so help hydrate. Carotenoids can help reduce skin pigmentation by decreasing the size of melanocytes and melanin levels. Thus addressing hyperpigmentation caused by UV radiation, hormones or even acne. Commonly used carotenoids include: β-Carotene, Lycopene and Luthein.
Antioxidant peptides are cell-permeable and are very potent at reducing intracellular free radicals and preventing cell death caused by free radicals. When antioxidant peptides are applied topically, they are small enough to penetrate the skin and signal the skin to repair itself where there has been any damage (typically from UV exposure or environmental pollutants creating free radicals which then attack and damage skin cells.) Antioxidant peptides not only reduce free radicals, but can stimulate the skin to produce more collagen peptides which are vital in maintaining healthy collagen in the skin. Commonly used antioxidant peptides include: Peptide Q10 Biofunctional, Quintescine IS and ECM-Protect.
Antioxidants play a critical role in protecting against and repairing free radical induced skin aging resulting from UV and environmental pollutant exposure. The most effective skincare products will contain a variety of antioxidants as described in this article that work in different ways in the skin, and are used both in the morning and at night.
One skincare line that uses a full range of antioxidants in all of their products is Trufora. To learn more about Trufora click here.