It seems we can’t get enough of antioxidants. In our skin care and in our smoothies, these high achieving ingredients have made the rare jump from industry-only secret to mainstream essential, so much so that they have officially entered the public’s skin care lexicon, taking their place alongside serum, acid and multi-masking. According to Pinterest, Vitamin C was the most-searched-for skin care term in 2017 and international analysts Mintel recently crowned antioxidants the most popular skin care ingredient ever. So what do you need to know about them?
In the simplest of terms, antioxidants are substances that prevent oxidation caused by free radicals. Think about when metal rusts or an apple that has been cut in half turns brown. This is oxidation. While the visuals aren’t exactly the same, this kind of thing is happening to your skin every day. What are free radicals, you say? Well, they are incomplete and unstable atoms that are on a desperate search for electrons to steal and claim as their own, in an effort to make themselves whole again. Free radicals can be found in everything from cigarette smoke and pollution to our bodies, but problems occur when these free radicals enter the skin, setting off a chain reaction that causes damage to the skin’s internal proteins like collagen and the DNA of our cells, which ultimately leads to cell death. Antioxidants can stop this process by neutralising the free radical atoms before they cause harm, by supplying them with the missing electron they crave. This inhibits their need to hunt and ensures the skin is left untouched.
Up until our thirties, the body can produce enough of its own antioxidants to curb free radical damage, but this slows down significantly once middle age seems closer than your teens. Coupled with a natural drop in collagen production, your mid-to-late thirties are a pivotal moment for your skin’s health and when adding more antioxidant-rich formulas into your routine can make the biggest difference.
Luckily, there is an abundance of antioxidants for your skin to feast on and they all have added benefits that they can bring to the table. Key antioxidants you have probably heard of include Vitamins A, C and E, Ferulic Acid, Resveratrol and Green Tea Extract, but the lesser known members of this family are just as effective. Look out for Glutathione, Astaxanthin, Superoxide Dismutase, Lycopene, Grapeseed Extract and Phloretin too. While all of these will neutralise free radicals, they also wear many other hats. Some boost collagen production and brighten dark spots, while others soothe inflammation and repair scar tissue, with most working well together to provide multiple benefits in one super formula.
Speaking of formulation, this is the one catch that comes using antioxidants topically. Due to their active nature, antioxidants can be incredibly difficult to stabilise which is why many cosmeceutical companies have to employ clever encapsulation techniques to ensure that they can penetrate the surface of the skin and reach the lower levels where their free radical-fighting powers can be appreciated most. Opaque, air-tight packaging is another way brands help to keep antioxidants stable, as keeping out sunlight and air will prevent degradation because, yep, even antioxidants start to breakdown if exposed regularly to the environment. It is also worth noting that a higher concentration of antioxidants doesn’t always equal better results. Some formulas can prove too potent for some skin types and cause inflammation, irritation and sensitivity, so don’t feel pressured to jump from a 7% Vitamin C to a 20% formula too quickly.
You can find antioxidants in pretty much every type of skin care product, from cleansers and serums to face masks and sunscreens, so fill your boots. Your entire routine can consist entirely of antioxidant-based products or you can focus on one key formula: both approaches will deliver results. For the best all-round protection against premature ageing and damage, always pair your most potent antioxidant (be it a serum or cream) with a sunscreen during the day. This powerful pairing will keep your skin shielded and safe against anything the world has to throw at it.