What Are Free Radicals & How Do They Affect Your Skin?

“Neutralizes free radicals. Fights oxidative stress. Contains antioxidants.” These are all technical-sounding phrases you may have seen mentioned on anti-wrinkle creams and anti-aging serums. But are these phrases so important and should you be paying attention? The short answer is "yes". Read on to find out why.

Back in the day, skin care was all about what you can apply to your skin externally to keep it healthy and beautiful. Thanks to technological and scientific advancements, we now know that skin health is also directly related to what is happening on the inside. Skin can now be studied and treated on a cellular level. This is the case with free radicals. The science behind this topic is fascinating and the more we learn about free radicals, the better we can work towards developing effective ways to fight them when needed.

What are free radicals?

Free radicals are atoms or molecules that have unpaired electrons. Free radicals containing oxygen are more specifically referred to as reactive oxygen species (ROS). They roam the body looking for another electron to pair up with and stabilize, usually stealing it from another atom or molecule. However, as free radicals pull electrons from other molecules or atoms, they destabilize them too, in turn transforming them into free radicals. This vicious cycle is what causes damage to cells, proteins, fatty tissues and DNA. 

Free radicals are normal byproducts of biological processes and chemical reactions in our body, such as metabolism. In normal amounts, they are not harmful and are a necessary part of normal bodily functions, causing chain reactions critical to our survival, such as supporting the immune system by attacking pathogens, and turning air and food into chemical energy. However, free radicals can also be introduced from outside sources, such as tobacco smoke, air pollution, sun exposure and UV radiation, poor nutrition or diets high in saturated fats and alcohol, overexposure to blue light, and toxins found in cleaners and pesticides.

What is oxidative stress?

In the same way that free radicals exist naturally within us, so do antioxidants. Antioxidants are molecules produced naturally in our body and which we can fill up on internally in the form of foods and supplements, and externally in the form of topical creams and serums. Normally, when there is an excess number of free radicals, antioxidants can neutralize them by giving them one of their own electrons without becoming destabilized themselves. However, when our body lacks enough antioxidants, our organism cannot fight free radicals at a sufficient rate. This imbalance causes oxidative stress.

One example of oxidation is when an apple or avocado slowly turns brown after it has been cut open. In humans, oxidative stress might occur slowly over time but it is associated with the development of several conditions. These include cardiovascular diseases, certain types of cancer, neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, asthma, inflammatory conditions and skin aging, among other negative side effects.

Why are free radicals harmful to skin?

When free radicals remain uncontrolled and oxidative stress occurs, this can greatly affect our skin. It negatively impacts our skin’s barrier function, increases sensitivity and causes the skin to lose moisture. The result is a loss of collagen and elastin, causing the skin to age prematurely. Wrinkles and fine lines develop, texture changes and elasticity decreases. Furthermore, skin may experience dryness, itching, soreness, dark spots, dullness, hyperpigmentation or discoloration.

The skin is the largest organ in our body, making it more vulnerable to free radicals and oxidative stress. However, as we age, our skin is not able to deactivate free radicals at the rate it used to, so we must replenish our body with antioxidants to better prevent free radicals from running wild.

How can I fight oxidative stress?

Even thought you cannot avoid exposure to free radicals completely, you can take precautions to keep your skin healthy. Avoiding habits like smoking, alcohol and foods high in saturated fats can help. Let’s look at a few other ways you can prevent oxidative stress.

Consume antioxidants

Incorporating foods that are high in antioxidants into your daily diet can work to minimize the development of too many free radicals in your body. Most plant-based foods are high in antioxidants, such as fruits, vegetables, herbs, nuts, pulses and whole grains. Supplements can also greatly increase your daily dose of antioxidants, such as ChitoCare Beauty Hair, Skin & Nails, which is packed with nutrients like marine chitosan, algal minerals, Vitamin C, zinc, selenium and geothermal silica, that protect cells from oxidative stress.

Apply antioxidants topically

Oxidative stress can affect your skin, leaving it feeling sore, irritated, dry, itchy or sensitive. To counteract the damaging effects of free radicals from the outside, apply antioxidants topically in the form of creams, lotions and serums. Our ChitoCare Beauty Anti-Aging Repair Serum, containing hyaluronic acid and antioxidants, provides powerful skin repair and helps reduce the signs of aging. It boosts the natural repair process for radiant and younger-looking skin.

Wear sunscreen

Protecting your skin from UV radiation is something you must never forget. Sun damage and the oxidative stress it brings with it is the number one cause of premature skin aging. Come rain or shine, sunscreen is your best friend when it comes to skin protection. ChitoCare Beauty Face Cream contains SPF 15, soothing aloe vera and moisturizing coconut and macadamia oil, to ensure your skin is adequately guarded against oxidative stress. Applying daily will keep your skin hydrated, moisturized and nourished with antioxidants.

Reduce stress levels

Psychological stress can be the root of several skin problems – including oxidative stress. When it comes to skin care, cleansing your body of toxins is as important as moisturizing. Exercising regularly, even if only moderately, will help your body regulate stressors, boost your energy levels and mood, and improve your overall complexion, giving you a rosy-cheeked glow. After exercising, scrub down with our ChitoCare Beauty Body Scrub, containing bamboo stem and walnut shell powder, for powerful antioxidant action and softer, rejuvenated skin. 

Get enough sleep

When we sleep, our body goes into repair mode – adjusting, fixing, restoring and renewing from the inside out, from head to toe. Inadequate sleep will leave you feeling tired, and your skin depleted of reparative attention. Not enough ZZZs cause oxidative stress, resulting in dark under-eye bags, wrinkles, puffiness, dull-looking skin or pigmentation changes. In fact, the sleep hormone known as melatonin is itself an antioxidant! Getting a good night’s sleep in darkness is essential for melatonin production, so getting enough shut-eye will keep your skin looking fresh and healthy.

To fortify your body’s oxidative stress barrier even further, try ChitoCare Beauty Liposan Fibers, supplemented with Vitamin C and antioxidants, and stay energized throughout the day, every day.