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The Age Of Antioxidants

By New You Editorial
Posted On Jan 11, 2011

What Is An Antioxidant

“Environmental pollutants,” “free radicals,” “oxidative stress”—amidst all the scientific terms that connote a hazard to your (skin) health, and the ever-growing product list that claims to ward them off, protecting your skin has never been more confusing. Because finding the right skin care solution means first understanding the problem, we’re bringing you a short course in antioxidant education.

What Do Antioxidants Do?

“Antioxidants are known to improve cellular function and are thought to slow down aging,“ says AACS doctor Joel Schlessinger, MD, a dermatologist in Omaha, Neb.

If the “anti”-oxidant is the hero, then the oxidant is the villain in this skin care tale. An oxidant, or “free radical,” is something the cells in our bodies
produce as a natural byproduct of oxygen use. To get technical about it, a free radical is actually an atom or molecule with unpaired electrons, which causes these maverick elements to be highly chemically reactive, damaging other atoms or molecules.

Pollution, UV, stress, smoking, radiation and diet can all lead to an increase of these free radicals, which cause cellular damage associated with aging skin on the outside, and heart disease and cancer on the inside. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals before they cause damage.

Miami Beach-based AACS doctor and dermatologist Leslie Baumann, MD, author of “Cosmetic Dermatology” (McGraw Hill 2009), feels there is no one best antioxidant. Her advice is to get as many types as possible into your diet.

But while we get a regular dose of antioxidants from vitamins, fruits and vegetables, “The current thinking is that we need extra antioxidants on a daily basis,” Dr. Schlessinger explains. “We can’t get enough of them to the skin by simply eating foods and even vitamins, so it is helpful to have extra opportunities to deliver antioxidants to the skin by applying them topically.”

Picking The Right Products

Without a doubt, product manufacturers and popular media have jumped on the antioxidant bandwagon, giving you, the consumer, access to really great products, but also the added responsibility of sifting through the not-so-great products.

“While high levels of antioxidants are thought to correlate with skin improvement, it isn’t clear that they always reach down into the skin to cause a benefit, so you have to take this into account when choosing a product,” advises Dr. Schlessinger. “Additionally, there are considerations of allergies, which can occur with many of these ‘natural’ products. Idebenone is one that has great levels of antioxidants, but sometimes can cause allergies.”

Even if it’s a great product with guaranteed results, “It’s equally important to make sure that it’s a product that feels good on your skin and is something you want to incorporate into your daily regimen. Unless you actually like it, you won’t use it,” Dr. Schlessinger says.

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