What Are Free Radicals And How Can We Protect Our Skin From Them?

Person picking produce at the grocery store

If you’ve ever researched anything regarding skincare, chances are you heard of the term “free radicals”. Free radicals affect our bodies in many ways and play an important role in our skin’s capability to function. In order to better understand the role of these molecules in our bodies and how they can turn detrimental, it’s important to understand what they are and how and why they form.

What Are Free Radicals?

The National Cancer Institute defines free radicals as “highly reactive chemicals that form when an atom or molecule gains or loses an electron.”

Free radicals form naturally in the body and are necessary to perform certain functions and maintain overall health. When formed through our normal metabolic processes, these molecules help break down nutrients to create energy. Once a free radical is formed, it reacts solely to stabilize itself and pair with another electron. This involves taking an electron from another healthy molecule and thus creating an endless cycle.

Free radicals damage to cell illustration/Infographic

This process can have negative effects on your skin. At high concentrations, free radicals have the potential to damage all major components of your DNA and cells, including the crucial proteins that keep your skin healthy, like collagen and elastin. There can also be high levels of free radicals in environmental toxins, which can stimulate the body to produce even more free radicals, causing oxidative stress and even skin cancer. 

Antioxidant vs free radical illustration/infographic

The Power of Antioxidants on Free Radicals

Oxidative stress caused by free radical damage can contribute to many skin conditions. Fortunately, studies have shown that antioxidants can help neutralize free radicals and their harmful effects on our cells. Although the body naturally produces antioxidants, they can also be found in many of the foods we eat:

  • Vitamin E can be found in vegetables like broccoli and spinach, and fruits like avocado and blueberries.

  • Vitamin C in present in many citric fruits like oranges and lemons, and in other fruits and vegetables like kiwis and red peppers.

  • Vitamin A is found in foods rich in beta carotene, like carrots, squash, and cantaloupe.

  • Flavonoids can be found in leafy greens and fruits as well as tea, wine and dark chocolate.

Overall, maintaining a diet full of antioxidant-rich foods can help restrain the formation of free radicals and reduce the damage they would cause on our skin.

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