Skincare 101: Free radicals: What are they? Why are they bad?
This is probably one of the most thrown-around phrases in health and beauty. It sounds a bit pseudo science, but there’s a tonne of really interesting articles about them. I don’t want to simplify it too much, but I love a good story and the free radicals essentially work as a movie villain with antioxidants as the hero.
What are free radicals?
In short, they are atoms (or groups of atoms) that have an odd number of electrons. Electrons are more stable in pairs so the unstable free radical will seek out another loner electron to make a pair. In doing this, it can cause damage to cells and DNA – which is where the problems really start.
Where do they come from?
A number of places, they occur when oxygen in the body reacts to another molecule, but also from things like diet, smoking, heat, light. Your immune system will sometimes make them on purpose to fight viruses or bacteria, too.
Their outermost shell of electrons isn’t full, it’s an odd number. They are unstable villains so they try to steal an electron from the nearest stable molecule, thus giving that one an uneven number of electrons and making it a free radical now. It’s like a domino effect.
How do you defend against free radicals?
Antioxidants. The hero of this story. We can’t really stop free radicals forming, but we can link them to ageing and cancer. The antioxidants donate an electron to allow the free radical to stabilise.
Also sun protection may help to prevent damage from the sun, as always.
Where do antioxidants come from?
Antioxidants are naturally produced in your body, but are supercharged by diet and some skincare. There is research ongoing about using antioxidants topically, but it has been linked to making skin seem younger (boosting collagen production and the like).
The vitamins to focus on are Vitamin E and Vitamin C. Vitamin E is thought to help stop lipid peroxidisation (breakdown of lipids) and Vitamin C is thought to target damage from pollution and smoking.
Are they all bad?
Probably not, no. They actually help with certain things in the body and are unavoidable considering we need oxygen to breathe. They just don’t really fit into a society that wants to look like a twenty year old until they are eighty. This article is really interesting and worth a read.
FYI I’m not a scientist.