The best approach to winning the battle against premature aging skin is to protect it against sun rays with sunscreens. But what do you do when damage occurs anyway? First, know thy enemy: free radicals are the culprits in the process of aging. Second, enlist the help of the chivalrous Knights of the Anti-Aging Crusade: antioxidants whose mission is to eliminate the free radicals.
If you have ever seen butter turning rancid or iron rusting you have witnessed first hand what is going on in your body in terms of aging. Not to butter you up, but your illustrious skin behaves the same way during the process of cellular degradation called aging. And the original sinners for those wrinkles and other degenerative conditions are called free radicals. Free radicals are single oxygen molecules that are released when your body simply just lives. Each time you take a breath, each time a mitochondria – energy producers in cells – does something good to your body, like create energy, birthing new cells, repairing cellular damage (from sun, stress and pollution), free-radicals are released. In order for molecules to bond together they must share an electron. Free radicals only have one electron and are unstable until they find another electron to steal from a molecule. In the body, this process creates havoc among the population of healthy cells. Your entire body, including brain cells, your DNA, and of course the cells of your skin are under siege by free radicals. This never-ending war is called oxidation.
Oxidation happens naturally – just breathing will cause it – and our body will naturally fight back on its own. However, it is also aggravated with stress, pollution, smoking and sun exposure. Exposure to the sun with or without burning will accelerate the multiplication of free radicals, therefore produce more free radicals than the body can naturally fight. Visible examples of free radical assaults on the skin are: hyper pigmentation (dark spots), broken or distended capillaries, and loss of elasticity responsible for wrinkling.
Good guys: Antioxidants
The good news is, every year, science discovers new weapons against free radicals and their mission of oxidation. Antioxidants are the knights in shining armor that limit oxidation damage by giving away one of their good electron to free radicals and saving your healthy cells.
Antioxidants are vitamins and nutrients from fruits, vegetables and plants. Vitamin C and E are the forefront of the battle.
One molecule of tocopherol (vitamin E) neutralizes up to 50 free radicals (molecules). Tocopherol has a great affinity for free radicals, bonding with them instantly and turning them into stable molecules. Vitamin C then arrives to the scene and recycles the free radical fighting vitamin E and restoring its power to bond again. The two antioxidant vitamins work together to prevent free radical damage.
Other great antioxidants for the skin include green tea, pine bark (also known as Pycnogenol TM), beta-carotene, grape seed, bilberry grape, and black currant. Chemists have found that kola nut is a powerful antioxidant as well as extracts of gingko biloba, licorice, chamomille, guarana and matte. Up to recently hydroquinone was found to be the only antioxidant capable of interrupting the free radical cascade that produces melanin pigment thus lightening hyperpigmentation of the skin also called age spots. However a new breed of natural antioxidants such as kojic acid and mulberry extracts are found to be effective against darks spots especially if combined with alpha hydroxy acids.
Ingested antioxidants – through fruits, vegetables and vitamins have been demonstrated to not make it to the skin – the body saves the good stuff for the more survival oriented body parts thus enhancing health and beauty. However numerous research from cosmetic companies laboratories to research dermatology department from major university around the world have found that antioxidants can enter the skin thus defend the skin from free radical attack.
As for skin’s anti-aging crusade? Fight the battle from all fronts: wear sunscreen for prevention, eat your fruits and vegetables for health, and seek out the heroes: enlist antioxidant ingredients in your skin care regimen.