We know antioxidants are good. We want them in our food and in our skincare. But why do we want them? And what exactly is an antioxidant?
From the Milady Standard Esthetics: Fundamentals:
“Antioxidants prevent oxidation by neutralizing free radicals. Free radicals are super oxidizers that cause an oxidation reaction and produce a new free radical in the process. Because they are created by highly reactive atoms or molecules (often oxygen) free radicals are unstable. Left alone they will create inflammation, damage DNA, and eventually cause disease and death. One free radical can oxidize (combine or cause a substance to combine with oxygen) millions of other substances. Antioxidants are free radical scavengers that stop the oxidation reaction from continuing” (page 170).
Okay, that is a lot of textbook words, let us break it down a little bit.
“Antioxidants prevent oxidation by neutralizing free radicals”
Okay, straightforward. But what is oxidation, a free radical, and why do we want it neutralized?
“Free radicals are super oxidizers that cause an oxidation reaction and produce a new free radical in the process. Because they are created by highly reactive atoms or molecules (often oxygen) free radicals are unstable”
Okay, so free radicals are something that interacts with other molecules to create an oxidation reaction- which creates a NEW free radical, thus creating a chain reaction and an endless cycle of new free radical formation.
“Left alone they [free radicals] will create inflammation, damage DNA, and eventually cause disease and death”
Well now, these are terms we know. Inflammation in the cell means the cell must focus on repairing itself, and attention is taken away from normal healthy cell activity. All signs of ageing and damaged skin come from inflammation.
DNA is our genetic makeup, and we know DNA replicates itself. If our DNA gets damaged, the replicated copies will reflect that damage. So, these free radicals are bad guys, going in and messing things up within our cells.
“One free radical can oxidize (combine or cause a substance to combine with oxygen) millions of other substances”
This is the OH CRAP moment! One free radical can do the oxidation reaction (the one which damages the molecule it is interacting with and creates a new baby free radical in the process) and can do this process with MILLIONS OF SUBSTANCES. The potential for cell and tissue damage is unlimited.
Well, what the heck can we do? This is where our white knight hero comes into play…
Antioxidants are free radical scavengers that stop the oxidation reaction from continuing.
There is a solution to this unlimited potential damaging free radical bad guy…
So now you understand what an antioxidant is: a white knight hero that swoops in and puts a stop to those pesky free radical bad guys that are causing limitless damage by stealing electrons, which in turn creates inflammation and DNA damage.
So, in summary, the next time a client asks you, “What do antioxidants actually do?” you are ready and confident to shell out a science packed answer!
“We need antioxidants in skincare because of those pesky free radicals’ oxidizers and the endless potential for DNA damage and skin aging inflammation!”
These are some of the most common antioxidants in the market today:
- a. Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate (synthetic version)
- b. Ascorbic Acid or L-Ascorbic Acid (the most researched form)
Vitamin C is seen in anti-ageing and hyperpigmentation targeting skin products because it has been shown in multiple studies to help prevent melanin formation and assist in collagen production. A few years ago, we saw this explosion of vitamin C products on the market because it is such an amazing and powerful antioxidant.
However, vitamin C is unstable, degrades easily, and does not play well with others. Be mindful about combining vitamin C with other actives such as retinoids or acids.
Other forms that I haven’t found a lot of research supporting its effectiveness one way or another include: sodium ascorbyl phosphate, ascorbyl palmitate, tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate, magnesium ascorbyl phosphate, and ascorbyl glucoside.
- a. Tocopherol
- b. Tocotrienols
Vitamin E has long been used for wounds and dry skin as it has been shown to promote skin healing. Vitamin E also works well with vitamin C, so you will often see them together. Vitamin E will stop free radicals, but in turn get damaged from the process.
Vitamin C will repair the vitamin E and allow it to continue neutralizing the free radicals. Due to its wound healing properties, vitamin E is great for dry skin that requires nourishment.
- a. EGCG or Epigallocatechin gallate
Scientists have known green tea to be a powerful antioxidant when ingested, but it also works on the skin. Green tea works to regulate sebum production and has anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties, which makes it an ideal ingredient for acne and sensitive skin.
- a. Vitamin B3
- b. Nicotinic acid
Niacinamide is found naturally occurring within our bodies and in the food, we eat. Niacinamide protects from free radical damage, repairs the skin barrier, and regulates oil production. It is great for all skin types, even acneic.
Niacinamide can be used in conjunction with vitamin A, vitamin C, retinol, or any other actives without causing skin irritation.
I am going to cover a lot more about vitamin A/Retinoids in Chapter 5, but these are the forms of vitamin A that perform as antioxidants.
- a. Retinyl Ascorbate (A combination of vitamin A and vitamin C. By combining these two together they prove to be more stable).
- b. Retinyl Palmitate (A combination of vitamin A and palmitic acid. This compound is found naturally in our skin, working as an antioxidant, and protecting the skin from sun damage).
- a. Polyphenol antioxidant
Resveratrol is found in grapes and berries and was a popular ingredient a few years ago. This ingredient is what these fruits use to protect themselves from infection and pollution. These attributes are what make it a good antioxidant, especially for acneic skin as it is naturally anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory.
Coenzyme Q 10
- a. Ubiquinone
CoQ10 occurs naturally within our bodies, but like everything else, it decreases as we age making us prone to fine lines. This specific antioxidant helps stimulate collagen production, making it ideal for mature skin looking to minimize the appearance of fine lines and loss of elasticity.