Just Curious, What are Free Radicals and Antioxidants?
But what are they *really*?
Free radicals and antioxidants, much like probiotics, 401k’s, and stocks are something we hear a lot about, but to be totally honest, don’t really understand what they are. We know they’re bad, and that there are a million and one products on the market that can help protect us from them, but what exactly are they, and what do they do?
To solve one more of life’s little mysteries, we reached out to Dr. Dendy Engelman, dermatologist and dermatologic surgeon at MDCS, asking what they are, what they do, and how we can stop them (if we actually even need to stop them).
What are they?
“Free radicals are formed due to pollution, UVB/UVA rays, or environmental aggressors, as well as internal stressors. Free radicals are unstable compounds in search of a missing electron, and they can wreak havoc on your skin. When they ‘steal’ electrons from other molecules, it leaves those molecules unstable as well, and in turn, also in search of a missing electron. Because this produces a domino effect, this further weakens the skin barrier, leaving it vulnerable to premature aging (i.e., fine lines, wrinkles, and uneven skin texture).”
Ok, but WTF do they do?
“If a free radical is not neutralized, it can affect cell DNA or cause the cell to die. Free radicals like to target whatever is closest to them—lipids (ceramides) and proteins (collagen and elastin) especially, which disrupt the molecule’s ability to function properly and support the skin. These molecules in turn become free radicals, looking for another molecule to ‘steal’ an electron from. As these molecules are responsible for connecting cells, keeping them hydrated and promoting healthy cell turnover is important—without them your skin loses its ability to function properly.”
How do we stop them?!
“Think of antioxidants as your stable, wealthy, and very generous sibling/friend/cousin! Antioxidants are stable molecules, but they have an extra electron to offer, free of charge. An antioxidant helps protect skin against free-radical assaults by neutralizing oxidative stress that can cause cell damage—and in excess and over time result in signs of aging. Vitamin C pairs with free-radical scavengers in search of a missing electron, so it neutralizes the damage a free radical would otherwise do if it were to pair with an electron from your skin instead.”
Which products are the best?
“This Vitamin C serum enhances protection against environmental aggressors by neutralizing free radicals with eight times the power of the natural skin’s defense. It uses L-Ascorbic Acid, Alpha Tocopherol, and Ferulic Acid to target photoaged skin, wrinkles, and skin elasticity.”
“One of the major agers or causes of free radicals is UV damage and pollution. Recognizing the global epidemic of pollution, Elizabeth Arden introduced a product with an invisible skin shield to combine pollution and UV protection with their DNA Enzyme Complex™ to strengthen skin. I use this after my CE Ferulic Acid as a sunscreen product. It contains an exclusive blend of antioxidants—idebenone, green tea, ferulic acid—to neutralize free radicals, as well as a DNA Enzyme Complex to protect your DNA against oxidative stress.”
“Use a mask to boost hydration and reduce free-radical scavengers. I like this one because it is clear and does not need to be rinsed off—perfect for the start of the day when no one even knows it’s on. It’s extremely hydrating with the highest concentration of micro-encapsulation of polarized water, which brings water deeper into the skin. Botanicals, red algae, hyaluronic acid, ceramides, and shea butter help increase hydration and moisture. In addition, the antioxidants help protect from free radicals, which can be just as harmful in the winter months. Skin is more plump, soft, and smooth after only one use.”