You are probably already following a wholistic skincare regimen, where you protect your skin from the sun, don’t smoke, sleep enough, do regular sports, and eat a healthy diet. You may still want to include antioxidants in your skincare and diet to improve the health and quality of your skin.

Free Radicals And Cell Damage

One of the main reasons skin, in fact, all cells in your body ages is through free radical damage, also referred to as oxidative stress. Free radicals are molecules with an unpaired electron. This makes them highly reactive. They need to gain another electron by taking one from another molecule (aka, acting as an oxidant) to become more stable. Now that molecule has become unstable itself, with an unpaired electron. This starts a chain reaction. Chemical bonds are broken and new ones form in the process of electron transfer which causes permanent changes in the molecules’ structure and function. In short, it causes damage to the cells of any living organism.

In many many biological processes, free radicals are fundamental. For example, our body purposely creates free radicals to neutralize viruses and bacteria. However, when too many are formed in the wrong place, they’ll react with whatever’s around; free radicals can cause damage to proteins, lipids, and DNA. Damage to DNA is known as oxidative stress, which is responsible for both the aging of our cells and with it, our bodies. Oxidative stress can also cause harmful mutations within our cells ‘ DNA resulting in many cancers.

During normal biological processes such as breathing, free radicals are formed. External factors such as UV exposure, pollution, and cigarette smoke also cause the body to produce more free radicals. Since your skin is the main interface between you and the external world, that’s where free radicals are produced in the greatest amounts.

Note that sun exposure leads to free radicals being formed in the skin within 15 minutes of exposure to UV, and continues for up to an hour afterward. The sun damage caused by UVA exposure is largely due to free radical damage. As UVA penetrates the dermis, free radical damage can occur quite deeply in the skin. UVB can also cause the skin to produce free radicals.

It is obvious, then, that stopping free radicals and preventing the oxidative stress they induce is essential. And that’s exactly where antioxidants enter the picture.


Any molecule that can neutralise free radicals is an antioxidant. Usually, these are reasonably stable molecules with an unpaired electron, so once the free radical takes their electron, the chain reaction stops. Antioxidants are nutrients (vitamins and minerals) and enzymes (proteins inside your body).

Some of the most powerful antioxidants are vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin A, vitamin B12, vitamin B6, among others. Besides vitamins are other types of antioxidants, like flavonoids, polyphenols, minerals, and others.

The body naturally contains antioxidants that absorb free radical damage, including enzymes like glutathione peroxidase. It also contains non-enzymatic antioxidants like vitamins C and E, and coenzyme Q10.

There is a lot of talk of dietary antioxidants and antioxidant superfoods with the idea that it is beneficial to top up your antioxidant stores with antioxidant-containing products, since the body’s natural mechanism can become overwhelmed if too many free radicals are formed. It is still open if taking antioxidant supplements actually helps reduce oxidative stress. Clinical research is non-conclusive, perhaps since antioxidants aren’t getting to the right place or are destroyed during digestion. But this is no excuse to forgo your daily portion of fresh vegetables and fruits.

According to the studies so far, the benefits of applying antioxidant products to the skin are a little clearer. As the skin is exposed to the elements (especially UV) it’s a part of your body that produces a lot of extra free radicals, and can benefit most from extra antioxidants.

Antioxidants In Skincare

In the past ten years that the beauty industry has increasingly added antioxidants to their products. Using extracts from foods such as pomegranate, green tea, grapes, blueberries, and mushrooms has become standard practice.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C and its amazing benefits, both for the body and for our skin have been widely reported. Vitamin C is one of the most popular antioxidants in skincare, often used in products that aim to lighten up dark spots and boost collagen.

Vitamin A Or Retinol

Retinol or retinoids acts as a powerful stimulant for collagen production while helping skin cells repair themselves and grow. Due to these properties, vitamin A is one of the most powerful antioxidants in skincare, frequently used to reduce wrinkles, repair severe scars, and overall make your skin look clear and youthful.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is essential for ensuring the optimal functioning of our organs. It can boost the skin’s ability to repair itself. Vitamin E can also serve as a reflective coating over the skin providing mild protection from UV, and is thus often added to sunscreens. It is often found in creams, gels, and lotions intended to treat dry skin as well as reduce stretch marks.

B Vitamins

The B vitamins are vital for all cells in the body, including skin cells.
It is essential to eat food that is high in B vitamins, like chicken and
eggs, because a vitamin B deficiency can lead to dry, itchy skin. The B vitamins can protect against skin damage and reduce wrinkles.


This chemical compound is mostly found in the skins of fruits like grapes and berries, peanuts, tea, and red wine. Resveratrol is an antimicrobial substance produced by plants to protect themselves from air pollution, infection, intense UV radiation, and extreme climate changes.

Photo by Jia Ye

Coenzyme Q10

Coenzyme Q10 is abundant in our bodies in our youth and its levels gradually begin to drop as we age. This substance protects our skin from the appearance of wrinkles and sun damage. Coenzyme Q10 is very easily absorbed by the skin, where it stimulates collagen production.

Ferulic Acid

This acid is derived from cereals and boosts the stability of vitamins C and E.


Polyphenols are most notably found in tea. Tea, be it green, black, or white, has many anti-aging benefits. Drinking tea not only protects our skin from oxidative stress, but it can also inhibit cancer. Applied to the skin, it can help defend against above mentioned environmental factors. It also has a distinct calming effect, making it a great ingredient to visibly soothe red or irritated areas.


Flavonoids are found in green and black teas and can help treat rosacea, reduce inflammation, and oxidative stress. They also boost the production of collagen, which is necessary for keeping our skin soft and elastic.


This compound aids in cell repair. The brain, the liver, the kidneys, and the skin, all need healthy levels of glutathione to function properly and to be healthy. Glutathione also can inhibit the production of melanin and so has made its way into skin lightening products. This powerful antioxidant helps detoxify the skin and reduces the appearance of wrinkles, giving you smoother, more supple skin.

Tell us in the comments below how you incorporate antioxidants into your daily diet and skincare routine.

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