If you’ve ever browsed health and beauty stores or researched anti-aging products online, you’ve probably heard the term “antioxidants” before. But what are they, and why are they beneficial? Read on to find out everything you need to know about the science behind antioxidants, from where they’re found to what they do.
What are antioxidants?
Antioxidants, also called free radical scavengers, are molecules with extra electrons that capture and bond with cell-damaging free radicals. To properly understand them, we first need to understand how our bodies work, what free radicals are, and why they’re harmful.
Our cells are always busy engaging in chemical reactions. Getting energy from our food, using that energy, building new cells, repairing old ones, and clearing away dead cells and waste products are all chemical processes that keep us alive and healthy. Our bodies do this by creating molecules, which are bonded elements that unite to perform a particular function, such as making our metabolism work.
Molecules are bound by electrons, which create bridges between elements to bring them together. This highly effective process is known as chemical bonding. However, with so much going on in our cells 24/7, sometimes these chemical processes get disrupted.
One disruptive force is oxidative stress. We all need oxygen to survive, but at the cellular level it can be quite damaging. Once inside our bodies, oxygen splits into single atoms with unpaired electrons. This is bad for us because electrons want to be paired, so those single atoms — known as free radicals — will find a pair in our bodies wherever they can, even if it means breaking up another molecule to steal its electrons.
If you think that sounds bad, you’re right! Free radicals are linked to a number of diseases such as cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, and more. Plus, they cause wrinkles by damaging our skin cells! Free radicals break up healthy molecular structures in our bodies, and once they occur they can create chain reactions, as each single atom steals electrons from its neighbors and turns them into free radicals in turn. If too many free radicals are created, they can destabilize and damage the whole cell.
This damage can cause broken membranes, preventing the cell from controlling what gets in or out. When cell structures alter and break down, it can lead to infections, cancer-causing mutations, or arterial blockages. The domino-effect damage can even cause mutations to our DNA.
Oxidative stress is what happens when there are too many free radicals in our bodies, causing a significant amount of cellular damage. Common oxidation factors that can contribute to this situation include poor diets, pollution, stress, injury and infections, and aging.
While we can’t control all these factors, we can help our bodies combat oxidative stress by avoiding substances that generate free radicals. Fried food, cigarette smoke, alcohol, and pesticides all produce free radicals, so the more we can avoid them, the healthier our cells will be.
When free radicals do form, we can use antioxidants to bind them and prevent them from causing damage. Antioxidants are found in a variety of foods, known as “superfoods,” and also in anti-aging skincare products.
What are antioxidant foods or superfoods?
The best way to get a regular supply of antioxidants is through your food. The USDA conducted a study of properties in different foods to create a list of superfoods high in antioxidants and vital vitamins and minerals. This study confirmed claims that berries such as blueberries and cranberries contain a high amount of antioxidants, but there are many more fruits and vegetables on the list, including some surprising sources of antioxidants, such as Russet potatoes. Nuts and spices were also found to be good sources of antioxidants, particularly pecans and cinnamon.
The lead author of the study, Ronald L. Prior, Ph.D., of the USDA’s Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center in Little Rock, Ark., said the bottom line was simple: “Eat more fruits and veggies.” For the most antioxidant-rich foods, eat more of the following:
- Legumes such as black, kidney, and pinto beans.
- Berries, including strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, cranberries, and blackberries.
- Fruits, particularly gala, red delicious, and Granny Smith apples, as well as sweet cherries and plums.
- Dark leafy greens, for example spinach, kale, collared greens, and chard.
How you prepare superfoods also helps boost their antioxidant properties. Dried fruits have a higher ratio of antioxidants than fresh, so switch out sugary or carb-heavy snacks for handfuls of raisins or dried apples, peaches, figs, and dates. Just check that your dried fruits don’t have any added sugar.
All foods are best consumed raw or lightly cooked to keep their antioxidants. Research has shown that exposure to high temperatures, and particularly wet heat, can reduce the amount of antioxidants in our food by as much as 60 percent. That’s because antioxidants come from the vitamins inside the food, most of which are water-soluble. Boiling is the worst culprit for removing antioxidants, with steaming a close second. The best ways to prepare vegetables to retain antioxidants are stir-frying over high heat with a small amount of oil, and roasting.
You can also get antioxidants from what you drink. Fruit juices are good sources (just be mindful of how concentrated their natural sugars are), and for healthier options green and black tea are also packed with antioxidants, as is coffee. However if you add milk or cream to your morning cup, that will block the antioxidants and you won’t get any benefit from them.
Why are antioxidants used in skincare?
Free radicals don’t just do harm inside your body: the damage they cause can be seen on the outside too. Free radicals disrupt our skin’s structure, changing the molecular compounds of collagen and lipids that give skin its elasticity, firmness, and youthful appearance. Signs of free radical damage include wrinkles, uneven skin tone or pigmentation, and dull, dry skin.
We can prevent this by applying antioxidants directly to our skin, providing extra electrons where they’re needed most, and helping stop the chain reactions of oxidative stress. Antioxidants are found in a number of different vitamins and minerals, but the key ones you’ll see in skincare products are Alpha-lipoic acid, Coenzyme Q10, Resveratrol, Astaxanthin, and the more familiar sounding Vitamins C and E.
Qyral uses these ingredients to provide your skin with the most effective, natural nourishment it needs to repair oxidative stress and keep your skin looking young and healthy.
#1 — Anti-inflammatory properties
Inflammation is both a cause and a byproduct of oxidative stress. It is an immune response to damage or foreign substances in the body, which can be the result of free radicals destabilizing cell membranes.
Inflammation can cause uneven skin tone, wrinkles, and acne breakouts. Antioxidant-rich skincare products supply the skin with the necessary electrons to calm and combat the inflammation.
#2 — Firming the skin
Our skin is made up of three unique layers. The outer layer, or epidermis, is constantly being replenished. Underneath the epidermis is the dermis, a layer of collagen and elastin fibers that gives skin its strength and suppleness. Over time, this layer becomes depleted, causing the epidermis to sag and wrinkle. Antioxidants can help slow this process by reducing the oxidative damage our skin is exposed to every day from smoke and pollutants. The result? Skin that looks and feels firmer!
#3 — Reducing the appearance of wrinkles
Antioxidants are incredibly beneficial for supporting our cells’ natural processes and combating damage caused by free radicals. One side-effect of this is that using antioxidant skincare products can help reduce the appearance of wrinkles by stabilizing lipid cells and plumping the dermis layer. While the majority of antioxidants produce these effects, Vitamins C and E are especially beneficial for minimizing the damage that results in fine lines and wrinkles.
#4 — Scar treatment
When our skin is damaged, scar tissue forms to repair and protect the injury site. Scar tissue has a different cell structure to healthy skin. While scar tissue does have capillaries to provide it with a blood supply, using skincare products with antioxidants can help boost blood flow and help minimize a scar’s appearance. Antioxidants found in aloe and onion extract (allium) are particularly beneficial for helping scars to heal and reducing pigmentation.
#5 — Repairing sun damage
We all love to enjoy the sun on a warm day, but too much sunshine is dangerous. Ultraviolet (UV) rays are a form of radiation that in small doses is vital to the production of Vitamin D, the vitamin that enables us to absorb calcium and maintain healthy bones and muscles. However too much UV can be deadly — in 2009 the World Health Organization classified the UV light spectrum as carcinogenic, meaning it causes cancer in humans.
On a smaller scale, UV rays are harmful to our skin’s appearance, drying and damaging the outer layer. Visible signs of sun damaged skin include wrinkles, dark spots, uneven pigmentation, and a tough, leathery surface. You don’t even have to be sunburned for this damage to occur, but sunburn is a warning sign of oxidative DNA damage. This is a result of UV exposure, and is what happens when UV photons are absorbed by a cell’s DNA, causing it to break or mutate.
Antioxidants have been shown in studies to be effective at preventing oxidative DNA damage, and could one day play a pharmacological role in cancer prevention. While the best way to prevent serious UV damage to your skin is still to stay out of the sun, using antioxidant skincare products can help alleviate the symptoms of sun damage, encourage the growth of new cells, and help make sun damaged skin appear younger and healthier.
Now you know what antioxidants are, and how they help your skin, you can make informed decisions about the products you use in your anti-aging skincare routine. You can also combat oxidative stress and reduce harm from free radicals by making lifestyle choices that promote holistic health for your whole body, not just your skin.
At Qyral.com, we believe effective skincare starts with understanding your skin’s unique stressors, and giving it the nourishment it needs to heal. All our age-well skincare and supplement routines are personalized using a smart algorithm that identifies your skin’s needs and adjusts to change with your lifestyle.