Antioxidants are defined as substances that inhibit damage caused oxidation. They occur naturally in foods such as fruits, vegetables, coffee, tea, wine, and chocolate as well as in the body.
The main goal of antioxidants is to fight oxidants (get it, ANTI- oxidants).
Oxidants are free radicals that tend to attack and break down healthy cells in the body like DNA and good proteins and fats in the body. This damage is shown in the form of premature aging of the body.
Oxidants are found in the environment, as well as produced naturally in the body. The body creates free radicals to fend off viruses and microbes, but too many can cause damage like aging and disease. This is where antioxidants come to the rescue.
Antioxidants bind themselves to oxidants and reduce their destructive power as well as fix any damage that has already occurred.
So how do free radicals form in the first place?
There are many ways free radicals form in the body, some ways include:
- Environmental exposure – this can be from carcinogens like radiation from the sun, cigarette smoke, pollution, pesticides, and herbicides in our foods, asbestos or other factors.
- Alcohol – consuming any type of alcohol produces free radicals in the body.
- Stress – stress creates the chemicals cortisone and catecholamines which can lead to the creation of free radicals.
- Excessive Exercise – excessive exercise or inconsistent vigorous exercise uses high amounts of oxygen stored in the body and results in excessive free radicals.
- Fat – polyunsaturated fat is found in vegetable oils and is easily oxidized in the body.
Types of Antioxidants
There are several types of antioxidants and many ways to utilize them. The antioxidants we get from our diet are the most important forms. They have the most control over free radical damage. But they are also very beneficial when used topically to protect the skin.
1. Vitamin E
Vitamin E is fat-soluble meaning it can protect cell membranes from damage as well as protects fats in “bad” cholesterol from oxidation.
Foods high in vitamin E: Almonds, spinach, sweet potatoes, avocados, sunflower seeds, and olive oil.
Skin Benefits: Helps skin to look younger by boosting collagen production which reduces the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles and age spots. Look for products with vitamin E in the form of alpha-tocopherol.
2. Vitamin C
Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is a water-soluble vitamin that scavenges for free radicals that are in a watery environment such as inside skin cells. Vitamin C works well hand-in-hand with vitamin E to fight free radicals.
Foods high in vitamin C: Strawberries, lemons, oranges, bell peppers, kiwi, broccoli, guavas, and papaya.
Skin benefits: It works in two ways, as an antioxidant, as well as a booster of collagen formation. Both of these are important to preserve and maintain the skin’s youth. Eating vitamin C provides great health benefits but limited skin benefits. Look to apply vitamin C topically in the form of concentrated serums and creams. Here you can read more about vitamin C.
Beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A, is also water soluble and thought to be the best agent against singlet oxygen (a form of oxygen that’s toxic to the cells). Beta-carotene also helps to eliminate free radicals in a low oxygen environment.
Foods high in beta-carotene: Sweet potatoes, carrots, dark green leafy vegetables, romaine lettuce, squash, cantaloupe melon, red bell peppers, peas, and broccoli.
Skin benefits: Has the ability to increase cell turn-over and regenerate the outer layers of the skin. Topical application can enhance the appearance of skin by restoring suppleness and adding a glowing pigment. It protects against the formation of wrinkles caused by sun damage. It may be listed as proVitamin A in personal care products.
Selenium is a trace element that should be consumed in small doses. It forms the base of antioxidant enzymes such as glutathione peroxidases.
Foods high in selenium: Brazil nuts, yellowfish tuna, grass-fed beef, turkey, chicken, eggs, and spinach.
Skin benefits: Calms inflamed and irritated skin. Selenium sprays, also called thermal spring water mists, help to alleviate redness and irritation of the skin.
Lycopene is a carotenoid responsible for giving fruits and vegetables their red color. It protects against singlet oxygen, a highly reactive oxygen molecule that causes premature aging. It also plays an important role in maintaining the cell’s integrity when it’s being attacked by toxins.
Foods high in Lycopene: Guavas, watermelon, tomatoes, papaya, grapefruit, red bell peppers, red cabbage, carrots, and mango.
Skin benefits: Improves skin texture by promoting collagen production and reduces DNA damage that leads to wrinkles. Lycopene is easily absorbed by the skin so look for topical products containing it.
6. Coenzyme Q10
Coenzyme Q10, or CoQ10, is an enzyme needed for the creation of energy to help shelter the body from free radicals.
Foods high in CoQ10: Beef sirloin, beef thigh, soybeans, parsley, broccoli, sweet potato, egg yolk, swiss cheese, avocado, strawberries, peanuts, pistachios, walnuts, and sesame seed.
Skin benefits: When applied topically, CoQ10 penetrates the living layer of skin cells and helps to slow or reverse wrinkles. It is also highly effective in protecting the skin from free radicals oxidizing in the skin due to UV damage. CoQ10 in unique compared to other topical products because it builds up over time as you continue to apply it.
Niacinamide, also known as vitamin B3, is a water-soluble vitamin that is part of the coenzymes that assist with energy metabolism. It is shown to exhibit anti-inflammatory and discoloration benefits.
Foods high in niacinamide: turkey, chicken breast, peanuts, mushrooms, tuna, green peas, sunflower seeds and avocados.
Skin benefits: Suppresses melanin from reaching the surface of the skin and protects the skin from further UV damage. Topical application has been shown to increase ceramide and free fatty acid levels in the skin. It also prevents the skin from losing water and stimulates microcirculation in the dermis.
Isoflavones have the antioxidant property to neutralize free radicals. Genistein is an isoflavone derived from soybeans with the highest antioxidant activity.
Foods high in isoflavones: Soy protein, miso, and edamame.
Skin benefits: Genistein, in particular, has the capacity to inhibit UV-induced oxidative DNA damage. Applying it topically has been shown to protect the skin from UVB (burning sun rays) skin photodamage.
As you can see antioxidants come in many different forms and provide amazing benefits to the skin and body. To receive maximum benefits its best to both consumer and topically apply antioxidants. Start adding antioxidants to your routine to fight off those pesky free radicals.