When it comes to skincare, some buzzwords get thrown at us. A few of these are antioxidants, free radicals and oxidative stress. One is good, the other bad, that much is usually clear from the context. But what exactly is behind these terms? And how does this triumvirate affect your skin? It quickly becomes apparent that there is more to it than fancy care products.
Antioxidants, free radicals and what they mean for your skin
When the metabolism is stressful
are you comfortable Very good, because today it goes a little deeper. To shed light on the interplay of antioxidants, free radicals, and oxidative stress, we delve into our metabolic processes. Metabolism here means not only the digestion of breakfast muesli, but all chemical and physical transformations of substances in the body. These processes run non-stop, everywhere.
They turn oxygen, fats, proteins, etc. into usable end products. This also produces intermediate products, including free radicals . These are aggressive little guys, but they definitely have their value. As part of the immune system, they vent their aggression on invaders. It becomes problematic when they get out of hand. Then they wreak havoc on the body's own building blocks.
⚡️ Explained in a flash : If an unusually large number of free radicals attack your own body, this is called oxidative stress. The antioxidants counteract this, which is why they are also referred to as free-radical scavengers – thus closing the circle.
What are free radicals anyway?
Free radicals are oxygen molecules , i.e. tiny compounds made up of several atoms, but they are not completely complete. You have an unpaired electron that is very acutely looking for a partner . They are anything but choosy and just take the next best thing. However, individual electrons are not buzzing around happily. They are usually part of other molecules. That is why the free radical is now going on a rampage .
The missing electron is simply ripped out elsewhere. It makes no difference for the free radical whether a hostile virus, a fatty acid or a healthy body cell falls victim to it. The attacked molecule in turn releases its own free radicals. This sets off a chain reaction that will get out of hand if no countermeasures are taken. If these aggressive oxygen molecules get the upper hand, we therefore speak of oxidative stress .
How does oxidative stress affect the skin?
Nowadays our skin is exposed to free radicals almost non-stop, unfortunately. As a result, oxidative stress wreaks havoc from the outer protective barrier to the lower layers of the skin. It accelerates skin aging and promotes skin diseases .
☠️ Cell death : When free radicals tear electrons from the membrane of healthy skin cells, this can alter cell metabolism and destroy the cell from the inside.
🥑 Lipids : They attack lipids that are urgently needed for the skin's protective function. Without sufficient replenishment, the skin barrier cannot regenerate effectively.
🥚 Proteins : Oxidative stress leads to the breakdown of keratin, elastin and collagen . Without these "space-giving" proteins, the skin loses its fullness and elasticity.
🩺 Diseases : Oxidative stress also triggers metabolic reactions outside of the cells, which can trigger skin diseases .
In short, it has a damaging effect on your skin in several ways : it hinders regeneration, destroys healthy cells and sets degenerative processes in motion. But when and why does this stress take over?
This creates a particularly large number of free radicals
Free radicals are formed by the body itself as a normal metabolic product . However, this production can be greatly accelerated by external influences. This is especially true when the body needs to neutralize pollutants , for example from the air or cigarette smoke . According to the health encyclopedia, around a hundred times more free radicals are produced when you breathe in your lungs than you have in your body cells. And when the tar is detoxified, more are formed. Smoker's skin is not proverbial for nothing.
But other factors also increase the formation of free radicals. The most important include:
- UV radiation
- Mental stress (see also: How does stress affect my skin? )
- competitive sport
- Pesticides, heavy metals, etc. that we ingest through food
- But also medicines
Of course we have to eat, we want to see the sun, and if you need medication, please don't stop because of the free radicals! I certainly don't want to advise you not to exercise. Only a healthy amount is important here, so start slowly, don't overwhelm yourself and combine training with healthy nutrition - more on that below.
⚖️ Conclusion: With these factors, pay particular attention to balancing oxidative stress with antioxidants .
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So what are antioxidants?
Every story needs a hero and here it's antioxidants. We enter the scene: Oxidative stress is taking over. Healthy cells and molecules are surrounded by free radicals. They are after their electrons, without which they cannot function. But here comes salvation! Antioxidants join the fray and mend the free radicals by donating electrons of their own. This is de-escalation at the molecular level.
Radical scavengers thus separate themselves from a part of their own structure. They are constructed in such a way that this is particularly easy to do. So free radicals find easier prey in them than in, to put it bluntly, more tightly knit molecules.
There is another peculiarity: While normal molecules are radicalized themselves after having stolen their electrons, antioxidants remain functional . So they also stop the destructive chain reaction.
☝️ The radical scavengers voluntarily share their electrons with the broken molecule and interrupt the chain reaction of oxidative stress.
Where do you get antioxidants from?
Food is a very important source of antioxidants. Many of these are vitamins , especially vitamins C and E. But they also include plant pigments such as carotenoids. Radical scavengers are therefore particularly abundant in fresh fruit and vegetables. Some berries in particular are packed with antioxidants. The blueberry has rightly earned its place as a local superfood.
Since many vitamins are destroyed during cooking, fresh, raw fruits in particular are good suppliers. If you process them, for example into a smoothie, you shouldn't let it sit around for too long. This is because some vitamins, including vitamin C, are water-soluble .
🍋 In any case, it is better to eat fresh and healthy than to swallow dietary supplements and vitamin tablets . According to the consumer center, research assumes that the isolated active ingredients in such preparations tend to have a counterproductive effect.
Antioxidants for the skin
Some cosmetic ingredients also have an antioxidant effect, especially for the skin. They prevent oxidation damage right where they are applied. In addition to vitamins, these ingredients also include essential oils and vegetable oils . Unlike mineral oils, natural oils contain antioxidants that keep them from going rancid.
But vitamins can also be applied topically to the skin. Their effect is then very similar to our apple example. At FIVE, for example, we use vitamin E (tocopherol) together with oxidation-stable jojoba oil. In this combination, your skin gets an extra portion of protection against oxidation and they make the formula last longer overall.
So you have something of cosmetics with antioxidants for longer
Because oxygen or UV light can trigger oxidation, it is important to store cosmetics properly . In other words, in such a way that it is protected from light, heat and air . It is therefore best to store creams and the like in a dark place, your mirror cabinet is ideal for this. And make sure you only open the jar and bottle briefly and close it tightly again.
💙 That's why we pack our FIVE products in blue glass bottles and not in translucent transparent glass.
Conclusion: live healthy and care naturally
Oxidative stress accelerates skin aging and can promote diseases, including skin diseases. Therefore, it is not only important for your general health, but also specifically for your skin to counteract this. It cannot be avoided completely, because free radicals are increasingly produced by many external influences.
What you can do : Balance this stress with a good supply of antioxidants . And internally and externally.
- Put lots of fresh fruit and vegetables on the menu
- Support the skin with natural cosmetics containing antioxidants
- Sport, yes please, but don't overdo it
- Do not smoke
- Sunbathe and reduce stress
I hope that free radical scavengers and the like are no longer empty buzzwords for you and that you take some useful information with you. You can find a lot more of it in our skin care tips !
- Duthie, G., Wahle, K., and James, W.: Oxidants, Antioxidants and Cardiovascular Disease . Nutrition Research Reviews. 2, 5 1-62 51, Rowett Research Institute, Bucksburn, Aberdeen AB2 9SB; 1989
- What are free radicals? DocMedicus, Health Lexicon; last viewed on April 27, 2020
- Antioxidants: helpers against free radicals. consumer center; February 11, 2020
- Zapf, J.: Oxidative stress in endurance sports. dr Loges, last viewed April 27, 2020