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How antioxidants work to help your skin

Familiar with antioxidants, but not sure exactly how they help your skin? We take a closer look at the links between skin and so-called ‘superfoods’.

What is free radical damage?

Although aging is an unavoidable physiological process, skin also ages according to our environment.
External factors, such as pollution, smoking, and UV rays[1] contribute to a phenomenon known as oxidative stress, responsible for causing free radical damage at the cell level. Triggered by these external factors, free radical damage has been shown to accelerate visible signs of aging.[2] So, where do antioxidants - known for fighting free radicals - come in?

antioxidants fight free radicals by offering themselves as a shield

Antioxidants help to fight the negative effects free radicals have on our skin, helping to ‘distract’ them from other skin cells.

In short, antioxidants fight free radicals by offering themselves as a shield, acting as a substitute for the skin molecules that free radicals usually latch onto and corrupt.

Other ways antioxidants help skin

Whether in terms of key minerals the body can’t produce on its own, such as calcium, or dietary supplements for improved general health, such as ginkgo biloba, we know that what we eat can have a significant impact on our skin’s future. Good nutrition has been linked to a reduction in the appearance of wrinkles,[3][4]with certain micronutrients shown to be as or more effective than topical cosmetics.[5]

Foods rich in antioxidants tend to be associated with brightly-coloured foods, such as fruits (red berries in particular), vegetables and even spices, but antioxidants can also be found in other, more unlikely places. What’s more, they don’t just help skin respond to aging. Research has shown that polyphenols, which are found in dark chocolate and grapes, can help improve circulation.[6] Flavonoids, a type of polyphenol commonly found in berries, apples and pears, can also help with stabilising blood pressure.[7] Another antioxidant, lycopene, found in tomatoes, has been shown to help reduce inflammation linked to sunburn.[8]

[1] Effect of the sun on visible clinical signs of aging in caucasin skin. F. Flament and al. Clinical, Cosmetic and investigational Dermatol. 2013).
[2] Emerit, I. ‘Free radicals and aging of the skin’ in Experientia Supplementum 62 (1992) pp. 328-341 [Accessible at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1450595]
[3] Schagen, S., Zampeli, V. et al. ‘Discovering the link between nutrition and skin aging’ in Dermato-endocrinology 4.3 (2012) pp. 298-307 [Accessible at:https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3583891/]
[4] Purba, M.B. et al, ‘Skin wrinkling: can food make a difference?’ in Journal of the American College of Nutrition 20.1 (2001) pp. 71-80 [Accessible at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11293471]
[5] Cho, S. ‘The role of functional foods in cutaneous anti-aging’ in Journal of Lifestyle Medicine 4.1 (2014) pp. 8-16 [Accessible at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4390761/]
[6] Huang WY, Davidge ST, Wu J. ‘Bioactive natural constituents from food sources-potential use in hypertension prevention and treatment’ in Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr 53.6 (2013)  pp. 615-30. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2010.550071.
[7] Huang WY, Davidge ST, Wu J. ‘Bioactive natural constituents from food sources-potential use in hypertension prevention and treatment’ in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition 53.6 (2013) pp.615-630. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2010.550071.
[8] Story, E., Kopec, R. et al, ‘An Update on the Health Effects of Tomato Lycopene’ in Annual Review of Food Science and Technology (2010) [Accessible at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3850026/]

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