As with most of my blog posts, I want to tell you about one thing (in this case, it’s antioxidants) but for you to really understand the thing, I need to tell you about something else entirely (free radicals and inflammation).
In its simplest form, antioxidants are these super hero ingredients that fight free radicals in the body. Free radicals are the bad guys, caused by various stressors, that create inflammation, the route of all aging. Well… pre-mature aging, but we’ll get to that. Can you tell I might have gone to see Captain Marvel this weekend?
I think this is a really important topic because we all have inflammation, every single one of us, myself included. Lately I’ve been really focused on reducing inflammation as much as I can. If you’ve been following OE for a while, you know that I had some chronic inflammatory issues with my wrists, arms and shoulders that put my esthetics career on pause for over two years. I am determined to never have that happen again. While acupuncture has played a vital role in my recovery, I wanted to take it further with a few lifestyle adjustments. After reading this post, you’ll understand why it’s so important to do things daily to help reduce inflammation, not just for the health of your skin but for the overall health of your entire body.
So let’s start at the beginning…
Free Radicals, Electron Theives
When an oxygen molecule splits into a single atom with an unpaired electron, a free radical is formed. Electrons like to be in pairs. See the image on the right with the outer ring of electron pairs? That’s a healthy atom. Free radicals scavenged the body stealing electrons from healthy atoms, damaging cells and even DNA.
Free radicals are naturally found in the body and, in low numbers, can even be beneficial to fighting off invaders and repairing tissue. However, when free radicals grow in number, they can have devastating effects. This is called oxidative stress, the imbalance of the production of free radicals to the body’s ability to detoxify and keep them in check. Antioxidants play a huge role in this and we’ll talk about them soon.
Oxidative stress and the over production of free radicals creates damage that causes inflammation. This inflammation is linked not just to pre-mature aging but a whole host of degenerative diseases. We’re going to focus on how it effects the skin but keep in mind it contributes to cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular, neurological, and pulmonary diseases. Scary right?!
Chronological vs. Biological Aging
Let’s talk about aging. Everyone does it but some do it faster than others. When we speak about age, there are two ways to look at it. First there’s chronological aging, which is the number of years you’ve been alive. Then there’s biological aging, which shows how old you actually are, right down to your cells. I often use the term pre-mature aging in reference to the latter, things that add to someone’s biological age.
Oxidative stress and inflammation play a huge role in pre-maturely aging the skin. Free radicals degrade collagen, inhibit collagen synthesis and can damage DNA resulting in cell death, all of which speeds up the aging process.
Leading Causes of Inflammation
Lifestyle is a huge contributor to creating inflammation. Here are some factors that contribute to the formation of oxidative stress:
Smoking – This is hands down the worst thing you can do to your skin. Not only do you asphyxiate your cells but you create an overload of free radicals while preventing antioxidants to move about the body.
Diet – By not eating enough antioxidant rich foods and consuming industrial vegetable oils you contribute to all kinds of inflammation. The process of creating vegetable oil actual makes the fatty acids in the oil rancid. Heat oxidizes the oil which is why cold pressed oil is so important. When consumed, rancid oils create advanced lipid oxidation, otherwise known as ALEs (these free radicals steal electrons from lipids in cell membranes). When absorbed by the gut, they create inflammation along with toxic compounds that circulate throughout the bloodstream compromising cell membranes. Not good. Inflammation can also be caused from refined sugars and carbohydrates as well as processed meats and dairy for those with sensitivities. The takeaway here is to eat a balanced whole food diet high in antioxidant rich foods and low in foods that lead to inflammation.
Environment – Urban environments are full of environmental toxins, that produce free radicals, but did you know that your phone and computer do too? Blue light emitted from screens accelerates oxidative damage. Sun damage also falls in this category. UV radiation is the leading environmental factor of oxidative damage in a process called photo-aging. It creates free radicals, damages the DNA and impairs stem cell function.
Stress – Our body has a built in system to deal with and regulate stress, the HPA axis. When this system is continually triggered due to chronic stress, it stops working efficiently and damages the system.
Lack of Sleep – Disrupted sleep can increase oxidative stress markers.
Exercise – Too much or not enough… Sedentary lifestyles increase oxidative stress but so does the physical stress of too much exercise. Moderation is key.
We made it! I finally get to talk to you about the thing!
I’m sure you’re all familiar with how good antioxidants are for you but do you know why? Remember how free radicals have solo electrons and steal electrons from healthy atoms to make a pair? Antioxidants give away electrons to free radicals stopping them from stealing electrons and causing more damage. Think of this category of ingredients as age defenders, fighters of inflammation. Dant da da dah!
Antioxidants are mostly found in plants like fruits, vegetables and herbs, although they can also be found in meat. While, again, our focus is skincare, eating for your skin is such a fantastic way to give your skincare routine an extra boost. Lucky for us, a lot of skincare brands are including herbs and plant oils into their ingredient lists so you can use a serum with similar ingredients to your favorite anti-inflammatory meal.
I’ll be including product recommendations in the next few sections that utilize the antioxidants we’ll be talking about.
Just as a disclaimer, these sections will include some affiliate links. This is how I’m able to keep writing blog posts. Meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
Polyphenols & Flavonoids
Antioxidant plants are made up of phytonutrients called polyphenols which are broken up into numerous categories, 14 categories with over 8,000 phenols. Flavonoids account for 2/3 of all phenols. These compounds are what give fruit and vegetables their vibrant colors. Polyphenols and flavonoids provide antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-carcinogenic benefits while preventing oxidative stress, when ingested and used topically.
This makes picking antioxidant foods easy. Look for bright fruits and vegetables to help increase your antioxidant intake.
Plant oils are rich in polyphenols and antioxidants. Look for oils like Prickly Pear (by now, you all know this is my favorite), Raspberry Seed, Camellia (which is actually oil from the seeds of Green Tea), Rose Hip and Sacha Inchi.
Antioxidants on the go
Try adding a powdered supplement to your routine.
I’m loving BioPharma’s Nano Greens. They combat the entire spectrum of free radicals with the antioxidant power of 10 servings of organic and non-GMO dark, leafy greens and brightly colored fruits with a 7,500 ORAC value. Plus, they use liposomal encapsulation to ensure you’re actually absorbing all these actives.
Use code Katie20 for 20% off your first BioPharma purchase.
Some antioxidants are better than others at neutralizing free radicals. The National Institute on Health and Aging created a measurement system to give value to a plant’s antioxidant capacity called ORAC, Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity. The higher the ORAC value, the higher the antioxidants.
For example: Blueberries have an ORAC of 4,669, Turmeric is 127,068, and Acai is 102,700. Herbs ground for spices have some of the highest ORAC values. Try adding in spices like cloves, rosemary, oregano, thyme, vanilla and (my favorite) sumac, to your daily cooking.
Two less familiar ingredients, Dragon’s Blood (a sap from a South American tree) and Astaxanthin (naturally sourced from a micro-algae species), have the highest known ORAC values. Dragon’s Blood is 2,897,110 and Astaxanthin is 2,822,200, giving them 6,000 times the antioxidant power of vitamin C, 800 times that of CoQ10, and 550 times that of vitamin E.
For a complete list of food’s antioxidant values, check out this site.
- The Super Couple Ultra Luxe Anti-Aging Serum
- This serum pairs Astaxanthin with Chia Seed Oil for super antioxidant protection.
- Price: $86.00
- Fleur De Rose Cream Cleanser
- This gentle creamy cleanser’s ingredients include Dragon’s Blood and Niacinamide.
- Price: $100.00
- Active Infusion Serum
- This herb infused serum is packed with antioxidants, fatty acids and phytonutrients.
- Price: $75.00
vitamins & minerals
Vitamins and minerals, whether taken internally or used topically, are a huge source of antioxidants. Here are a list of a few:
CoQ10 – This super antioxidant is present in every cell of your body and plays a big role in producing ATP, cellular energy. It neutralizes free radicals and boosts collagen.
Vitamin C – A potent antioxidant that boosts the immunity of the cell, increases collagen, brightens the skin and protects against sun damage.
Vitamin E – This fat soluble antioxidant supports cellular health, aids in healing the skin and protects agains UV damage. Unlike most antioxidants that become inactive after they neutralize radicals by giving them their electron, Vitamin E has a unique ability that allows it to be recycled and continue to protect the skin. Both vitamin C and Alpha Lipoic acid can take away the extra electron from a used vitamin E molecule, reactivating it.
Alpha Lipoic Acid – Also known as the universal antioxidant because it can travel anywhere in the body. It’s anti-inflammatory, assists with detoxification and boosts collagen. It is vital to recycling vitamin E in the skin.
Selenium – Crucial for proper functioning of the immune system, this essential mineral may protect against both cancer and heart disease. In the skin, it safeguards cell membranes, protecting it from damage.
The following products from Juice Beauty’s Green Apple Collection incorporate CoQ10, Vitamin C, Vitamin E and Alpha Lipoic Acid into their formulation. These products fight oxidative stress while brightening the skin with alpha hydroxy acids derived from organic fruit juice. I love Juice Beauty because they offer active organic products at affordable prices.
- Green Apple Brightening Emulsion
- Price: $48.00
- Green Apple Brightening Essence
- Price: $38.00
- Green Apple Age Defy Serum
- Price: $58.00
- Green Apple Brightening Eye Cream
- Price: $42.00
Did you know you can turn water into an antioxidant power house? You can either add Hydrogen to the water for a carbonated option or add Selenium. I’m dying to try Hydrogen Water but in the meantime I’ve picked up a little addiction to Bai’s Antioxidant Water. I feel bad it’s in plastic but this pH balanced water, infused with selenium and electrolytes, is incredibly delicious.
Boost your SPF
UV radiation is one of the leading causes of photo-aging. Up to 80% of biological skin aging is attributed to preventable factors and at the top of this list is sun exposure.
While I’m sure you’re all wearing and SPF daily, you can up your UV protection by pairing your sunscreen with antioxidants. Studies have shown that the addition of botanical antioxidants and vitamins C and E to a broad-spectrum sunscreen may further decrease UV-induced damage compared with sunscreen alone.
- Rebound- Organic Antioxidant Renewal & Boosting Serum
- This antioxidant boosting serum can be layered under SPF for added protection.
- Price: $78.00
- Natural Moisturizing Face Sunscreen & Primer, SPF 30
- This SPF is packed with antioxidants including Astaxanthin.
- Price: $45.00
- Three Sixty Five SPF 28
- SPF with antioxidant rich raspberry and plum oils.
- Price: $48.00
- Stem Cellular CC Cream
- One of my favorite tinted SPF’s with Vitamin C + E
- Price: $39.00
I’ve noticed such a difference in both my skin and how I feel on a daily basis since making adjustments to my lifestyle. My skincare is loaded with antioxidants, I stopped eating uncultured dairy, quit drinking alcohol, started drinking NanoGreens, switched back from coffee to matcha and am super mindful of the food I eat. Please know I’m not a proponent of abstinence and am in no way suggesting you need to do all of this. I do everything in moderation. But I did want to share my personal experience with you all.
I hope now you see how necessary reducing inflammation is not just to your skin but to the overall health of your body and that there are tons of easy ways to incorporate antioxidants into your daily routine, whether through diet or skincare.
Disclosure: This post contains some affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
While I am a licensed esthetician, I am not a doctor. This site does not provide medical advice and is for information purposes only. Always consult with your physician if you have an existing medical condition or feel unsure about adding in a new product or modality.