When talking about topical skin care, especially vitamin C serums, two terms get thrown around a lot: antioxidants and free radicals. The general understanding of these terms seems to be that antioxidants are things that are good for you and free radicals are things that are bad for you. So, eating foods high in antioxidants is good for your health because it just is—right?
While the “antioxidants are good, free radicals are bad” sentiment is essentially true, there’s a lot more to it than that and while the explanation gets a bit science-y, bear with me here; it will all make sense by the end. To really get to the bottom of what free radicals and antioxidants do, first we need to ask and answer two questions: What are antioxidants and what are free radicals?
What are free radicals?
Free radicals are molecules and atoms with an odd number of electrons, meaning that one electron is unpaired. Free radicals are often caused by UV rays and environmental pollution, as well as other sources. Free radicals are highly chemically reactive and unstable, meaning they are very likely to affect other molecules and cells because of that extra unpaired electron by either stealing an electron from them or giving an electron to them.
What do free radicals do?
When free radicals meet skin cells, they can damage them and cause them to function improperly, leading to pigmentation and structural skin problems. Our basic understanding of this process comes from the free radical theory of aging, which states that cells age due to an accumulation of free radicals over time. This accumulation causes certain effects, including age spots and wrinkles, due to the breakdown of collagen. The damage that free radicals cause to skin is closely related to oxidation, which is the same process that causes apples to turn brown if they are exposed to the air after being cut.
What are antioxidants?
Antioxidants are molecules that can safely interact with free radicals and stop them before they cause damage to important molecules and cells. Antioxidants occur naturally in fruits, vegetables, tea, and other plant-based sources. Common antioxidants include vitamin C, vitamin E, catechins, which are found in tea, and Resveratrol.
What do antioxidants do?
Antioxidants interact with free radicals and essentially neutralize them before they can cause damage to skin cells. This interaction aids in preventing environmental damage and visible aging on the skin. Your body produces antioxidants naturally to fight free radicals, but sometimes it needs extra antioxidants to fight back, especially under conditions of high environmental stress, such as sun damage.
How do I deliver extra antioxidants to my skin?
The best way to deliver antioxidants to the skin is to use a topical serum that contains antioxidants. Vitamin C is one of the most popular and effective antioxidants in skin care and works especially well in combination with vitamin E and hyaluronic acid. These vitamin C+E serums are extremely popular and often come in different strengths. It’s better to start off with a lower strength and work your way up to determine what’s best for your skin.
The Bottom Line:
Antioxidants are essential in preventing the damaging effects of free radicals, including hyperpigmentation and collagen breakdown. Getting an adequate amount of antioxidant-rich foods in your diet is helpful, but the most effective way to protect your skin from free radicals is to use a topical antioxidant serum, such as this C+E Ferulic Acid Serum by Advanced Skin Care.