The term "antioxidants" has become a health and wellness buzz word in recent years. Physicians and nutritionists regularly encourage consumers to eat foods rich in them, while consumer products regularly tout them on product labels. In fact, antioxidants now make a regular appearance in skincare products, ours
included. But, have you ever wondered what it is they do
? And, are they really that beneficial or are they just hype?
Let me answer the last question first: antioxidants are definitely
beneficial to the body. They're like the soldiers of our cells, disarming the free radicals that threaten cellular damage. Not only do free radicals lead to disease, including heart disease, Parkinson's disease and even cancer, they're also a leading cause of aging. In the skin, free radicals cause the breakdown of collagen and elastin, the proteins that give skin strength and elasticity. When collagen and elastin break down, fine lines and wrinkles develop. Therefore, you can see why antioxidants are beneficial in skincare products.
Because our bodies don't store antioxidants, it's important that we regularly replenish our supply. The list of foods that contain them is plentiful. In fact, to find those highest in antioxidants while checking the levels present in your favorite foods, visit ORAC Values
So what about the use of antioxidants in topical skincare products - what percentage of the antioxidants that are applied to the skin actually reach the deeper layers? And, of those that are absorbed, does the skin actually use them? In 2009, a team of fellow researchers and I implemented a study
that demonstrated use of a topical skincare product containing antioxidants does, indeed, increase antioxidant levels within the skin. Furthermore, a study by Burke
demonstrated that, when applied topically in proper form, antioxidants like vitamin C and E and selenium "arm the skin with a reservoir of antioxidants that cannot be washed or rubbed off, protection which stays in the skin for several days after application."
Given these facts, there are a few simple guidelines that should be followed to increase your body's antioxidant levels and, thus, optimize its ability to fight disease and combat the signs of aging:
Eat a Healthy Diet
The best way to obtain antioxidants is by eating a diet rich in whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables - the brighter the color, the better.
Limit Exposure to Conditions that Promote Free Radical Production.
Avoid environmental toxins like pollution and cigarette smoke. And, it should go without saying, avoid excessive sun exposure, as UV exposure is one of the main producers of free radicals.
Take a Daily Supplement
A daily multi vitamin that includes several antioxidants, like vitamins A, C and E, as well as selenium, is beneficial on numerous levels.
Use an Effective Topical Antioxidant Formulation
Research has shown that combining oral antioxidant supplementation with topical antioxidant formulations is beneficial to ensuring optimal protection of skin from photoaging (aging caused by UV exposure). To be effective, however, the formulation must optimize the delivery of antioxidants to the skin by using a base (the main ingredient in a formulation) that can be absorbed by the skin.
Antioxidants are currently the subject of countless research studies, due to the promise they hold for many disease states. Thus, I expect there's still much we'll soon learn about optimizing their use. As the topic evolves, we'll bring you the latest updates.
In the meantime, if you have questions about antioxidants, leave them in the comments section and we'll be sure to get you the answer.
- Dr. A