You’ve probably heard a lot about antioxidants — and not just in skincare.
You’ve probably heard that blueberries are good for you because they’re high in antioxidants, as are açaí and green tea. If you’re into skincare, you’ve probably read countless product descriptions that talk about antioxidants or how such-and-such ingredients have potent antioxidative properties. Maybe you thought, “Cool,” and moved on. Maybe you already know exactly what antioxidants do and why they’re so awesome. Maybe you know antioxidants are good for you but don’t know exactly why.
We always love sharing things with you, so you can take charge of your skincare routine and have more confidence finding the routine that works for you. Here’s a brief breakdown of antioxidants and why you should not only be eating foods rich in antioxidants but also applying products with antioxidants topically.
Q: So, what are free radicals?
Talk of antioxidants often brings up mention of free radicals and free radical damage … but why?
To put it simply, our skin (like every living thing) is made up of cells, which are molecules. Molecules contain something called electrons that come in pairs of opposite charges that keep them neutral. Sometimes, though, a molecule loses an electron, which makes it unstable because it’s no longer neutral — and that unstable molecule is what we call a free radical.
Molecules want to be balanced and neutral, though, so, when a molecule loses an electron and becomes a free radical, it wants to find another electron so it can be stable again. It unfortunately can’t just generate another electron, so this free radical goes around, trying to steal an electron from one of its neighboring healthy, neutral molecules. When it succeeds in stealing an electron, it becomes stable again — but the other molecule is now a free radical, on the hunt for an electron to steal, creating a chain reaction that wreaks havoc.
This is a process called oxidation, and it leads to something called oxidative stress when there are too many free radicals and too few antioxidants present. Several things can set off this process, from an imbalanced diet, lack of sleep, and stress, to environmental stressors like pollution and smoke. And oxidative stress leads to all kinds of damage, from premature aging to inflammation.
Q: What do antioxidants do?
Antioxidants neutralize free radicals by giving them electrons and stabilizing them. Unlike other molecules that become free radicals when they “give” their electron to a free radical, antioxidants don’t become free radicals themselves, stopping the chain reaction that causes oxidative stress.
Antioxidants naturally occur in our bodies — they’re part of our bodies’ natural defense system against cellular damage — but, as we age, our bodies’ ability to produce antioxidants decreases. Similarly, our skin’s ability to produce antioxidant-rich oils decreases as well, which leaves us susceptible to free radical damage.
Which is why we need products and foods that are rich in antioxidants. And we usually find antioxidants in plants.
Q: If antioxidants are plant-based, why can’t I just eat foods that are rich in antioxidants? Why do I need to apply them topically?
It’s like water.
Drinking enough water is important to maintain the general health of your body, but, when you drink water, the benefits are often to your vital organs and body itself. Your body doesn’t typically absorb enough water to transport that hydration to your skin; it’s more important for your body to absorb the needed water for your vital organs to function and to release toxins into the remaining water for your body to release as waste. That’s why, yes, you need to be drinking enough water every day for your general health but also why you should be using topical skincare products that deliver hydration to your skin.
Antioxidants are similar. You should, of course, be eating foods that are rich in antioxidants for the general health of your body, but the thing is that your body can only absorb so many antioxidants through your digestive tract. Those antioxidants won’t necessarily find their way to your skin, which is why it’s a great idea to eat a diet rich in antioxidants and also apply antioxidant-rich products topically. That way, your skin has the opportunity to absorb all that antioxidative goodness and reap the benefits.
Q: Are all antioxidants the same?
The short answer: no, they’re not!
Fundamentally, all antioxidants work to neutralize free radicals and prevent them from wreaking havoc. Individual antioxidants also have their own powerful secondary benefits, though, and they'll often work together, so you can combine different antioxidants to maximize their wonderful effects on skin.
You’ve probably heard about a lot of these antioxidants before, like green tea (or matcha), which is skin-soothing and high in polyphenols, which are desired for their anti-inflammatory properties. Or niacinamide (AKA vitamin B3), known for its brightening properties and its non-sensitizing qualities that make it suitable for all skin types. Or vitamin C that helps brighten skin and fade hyperpigmentation.
Resveratrol is a potent antioxidant found in grapes and, more beneficially, Japanese knotweed, and it helps protect the skin’s natural barrier against environmental stressors. Flavonoids are antioxidants found in green and black teas that help absorb UV light and reduce collagen degradation.
And these are just a handful of antioxidants — there are countless others!
Q: Okay, cool, thanks for the information — how can I actually get all this awesome antioxidant stuff into my skin?
Luckily, there are many products out there that have harnessed the power of antioxidants.
May Coop’s Raw Sauce is a waterless toner or essence that is a perennial fan-favorite. Made of 93% maple tree sap, which is an antioxidant powerhouse in itself, the Raw Sauce also contains antioxidants in the form of grape extract, which has strong anti-inflammatory properties thanks to polyphenols.
Mizon’s Egg White Bubble Cleanser also contains maple tree sap as well as various citrus extracts that provide Vitamin C’s potent antioxidative and brightening properties in a gentle, foaming cleanser that’s suitable for all skin types. Peach & Lily’s Good Skin Day Sheet Mask has chia seeds, an amazing source of alpha lipoic acids, a potent antioxidant that helps diminish the appearance of fine lines and enlarged pores.
And then there’s Peach & Lily’s Matcha Pudding Antioxidant Cream! This soft cream soothes and hydrates and leaves skin plump and matte, thanks to all the antioxidants packed into it, from matcha (soothes, helps fight inflammation) to niacinamide (brightens) to lotus flower extract (smooths and contains vitamin C)!
We hope that was helpful! If you have any other questions about antioxidants, leave them in the comments below, and we'll answer them in the future!