As we get older, it’s normal for our skin to gradually lose its elasticity and thin out. This is part of the skin’s natural aging process. However, there are a variety of factors that can cause the skin to start aging at an accelerated rate. A big part of this “premature skin aging” is a result of free radical activity in the body.
Free radicals are molecules that are produced by environmental exposures like tobacco smoke and radiation, including radiation from the sun and other sources of UV rays, including tanning beds. Free radicals are also produced when your body breaks down food.
Antioxidants are naturally occurring substances that may provide protection against the effects of damaging free radicals on the cells in your body, including your skin. Antioxidant ingredients are already promoted in a number of skin care products available both over-the-counter and by prescription, and are being actively studied in clinical trials for a variety of medicinal uses.
Nine antioxidants to look for when choosing a skincare product:
1. Vitamin E
Vitamin E (tocopherol) is an antioxidant that is present in the skin and found in various foods, such as vegetables, seeds and meat. (1) It helps the skin look younger by boosting collagen production and in turn reducing the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles and age spots. (2, 3)
Unlike other vitamins, skin derives more of its benefits from vitamin E better through topical treatments than through oral supplements. Vitamin E is available in two forms: alpha-tocopherol (alcohol-based) and alpha-tocopherol acetate. The latter does not penetrate the skin as easily, so make sure you’re reading the labels closely to get maximum benefit of the vitamin E.
Lycopene, a powerful antioxidant, is a carotenoid found in red fruits and vegetables. (4) It is, in fact, responsible for their red color. In addition to being a healthy choice for your diet, it’s a great choice for improving skin texture because it promotes collagen production and reduces the DNA damage that leads to wrinkles. (5) To get the most benefit from this powerful antioxidant, you can either take a daily supplement or look for skin care products that contain it in topical formulas (lycopene is easily absorbed by the skin).
3. Green Tea
Green Tea has become one of the new age food heroes — a helpful ally in preventing everything from heart disease and cancer to skin aging and weight gain. The full range of heath benefits may take decades to define, but research on its impact on human skin is reasonably well developed. The secret ingredients are chemicals called catechins, which are antioxidants that can clear cell damage on the skin and repair wrinkles, blemishes or other impurities. (6) When applied to the skin, green tea can reduce sun damage by reducing inflammation and tackling free radicals. (7) (It doesn’t block UV rays.) When choosing a tea, its helpful to know that green tea has over five times the amount of catechins as black tea. (8)
4. Coffee Berry
As an ingredient in anti-aging formulas, coffee berry prevents collagen damage, reduces wrinkles and protects the skin against damage. (9) It also has anti-inflammatory properties (10), which can lessen the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, leading to more youthful looking skin.
The antioxidant resveratrol is compound that is commonly found in grapes, nuts, fruits, and red wine, among others. (11) Separate studies have shown that when topically applied, resveratrol protects against UVB-mediated cutaneous damage and inhibits UVB-mediated oxidative stress. (12-14)
6. Grape Seed
Grape seed is extracted from vitis vinifera and is rich in proanthocyanidins, which belong to the flavonoid family. Proanthocyanidins are potent antioxidants with strong free radical scavenging activities. (15) Grape seed extract has been shown to be an even stronger scavenger of free radicals than vitamins C and E. (16)
Genistein is an isoflavone derived from soybeans with the capacity to inhibit UV-induced oxidative DNA damage. (17) Genistein, either topically applied or orally supplemented, was shown to effectively protect human skin against UVB-induced skin photodamage.
Niacinamide (vitamin B3) is a powerful antioxidant that has shown to exhibit anti-inflammatory and depigmenting properties. It has also shown to improve the texture and tone of the skin, as well as reduce fine lines, wrinkles and hyperpigmentation. (18)
9. Vitamin C
Vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid) is an essential nutrient that can only come from the healthy fruits and vegetables that contain it. Vitamin C is usually touted for its cold-fighting power, but it’s also under study for its impact on preventing and reversing aging skin.
It works in two ways: as an antioxidant, as well as a booster of collagen formation — both of which are important to preserving and maintaining skin’s youthful appearance. (19-21) However, boosting your intake of vitamin C-rich foods does not appear to impact your skin to any measurable degree, so cosmetic companies are hard at work to study whether it can be absorbed through the skin directly via topical creams and lotions.
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21. Geesin JC, Darr D, Kaufman R, et al. Ascorbic acid specifically increases type I and type III procollagen messenger RNA levels in human skin fibroblast. J Invest Dermatol 90(4):420-4 (1988 Apr).