There is so much talk out there about the damage free radicals can inflict on our skin and the benefits of antioxidants, both taken internally and used topically. You’ve paid enough attention to know that free radicals are bad and antioxidants are good.
You should be aware that taking care of your skin involves more than twice-daily cleansing and moisturizing. In fact, what you put into your body has a huge impact on your entire body, including your skin! Paying attention to antioxidants can offer a world of benefits. They’re vital to your health and longevity.
What Are Antioxidants?
According to Webster’s Dictionary, an antioxidant is
a substance (such as beta-carotene, vitamin C, and alpha-tocopherol) that inhibits oxidation or reactions promoted by oxygen and peroxides and free radicals.
Ooooh-kaaay. Sooo. . . . .
What Are Free Radicals?
Free radicals are formed when oxygen in the body splits – a result of either normal metabolic processes or due to an environmental stressor like smoke and toxins. When oxygen splits, it results in single atoms with unpaired electrons (oxidation). Those are the free radicals.
Electrons do not like to be lonely, so the free radicals are constantly searching for a partner. They careen around our body seeking out other electrons to pair with, leaving a path of destruction and damage to cells, protein, and our DNA. Free radicals are linked to numerous diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. They’ve been implicated in the aging process, which has been defined as a gradual accumulation of free radical damage.
The food we eat, medicines we take, air we breathe, and water we drink all contain substances that generate free radicals, according to Huntington’s Outreach Project for Education at Stanford University. These include pesticides and air pollutants, tobacco smoke, alcohol, and fried foods! Free radicals are also the natural byproduct of chemical processes like metabolism. Dr. Lauri Wright, a registered dietician and Assistant Professor of Nutrition at the University of South Florida says, “Basically, I think of free radicals as waste products from various chemical reactions in the cell that, when built up, harm the cells of the body.”
What Do Antioxidants Do?
Antioxidants, which are produced by the body and obtained through the food we eat, are a very critical part of the body’s defense system. An antioxidant will donate one of its electrons to the free radical, effectively neutralizing it. Some antioxidants will suppress the formation of free radicals. Others may scavenge to pick up free radicals and remove them before damage is done. Some may work to repair damage that has already been done.
They will help to protect your skin from damage from the sun and other environmental insults. They guard from the inside out. Antioxidants like vitamins A and C can encourage cell and tissue growth, helping the repair process. This makes them vital to an anti-aging skin care regimen, helping to fight fine lines and wrinkles.
Where to Find Antioxidants
You can find antioxidants in the healthy foods that you eat. Some nutrients that act as familiar antioxidants are vitamins C, E, beta carotene, and selenium. Phytochemicals like quercetin and other flavonoids and enzymes such as glutathione peroxidase and superoxide dismutase are also powerful antioxidants.
You’ll find these by eating the rainbow. A good rule of thumb is to generally believe each color of food provides a different antioxidant. Red foods (tomatoes) provide one type. Orange and yellow foods (carrots, apricots, sweet potatoes) provide another. Green veggies. . . .you get the picture. Lots of color variety means lots of nutrient variety, and your best bet to get the full spectrum of antioxidant benefits.
The good news is you have a huge variety of yummy foods to choose from! Take a look at your skin’s antioxidant heroes. Getting your daily dose of antioxidants can be fun and delicious!
Vitamin A (Retinol, retinal, retinyl esters, retinoic acid)
You need 700 mcg (or 2,333 IU) of vitamin A daily. Many people actually get too much vitamin A from food and supplements.
Found In: beef, liver, eggs, shrimp, fish, fortified milk, butter, cheddar and swiss cheeses, sweet potatoes, carrots, mangoes.
Vitamin C (Ascorbic acid)
You need 75 mg daily. If you smoke, you need 110 mg daily.
Found In: fruits and fruit juices (especially citrus), potatoes, broccoli, bell peppers, spinach, strawberries, tomatoes, brussels sprouts.
Vitamin E (Alpha-tocopherol)
You need 15 mg (about 22 IU from natural sources and/or 33 IU from synthetic vitamin E).
Found In: a wide variety of foods including vegetable oils, salad dressings, and margarines made with vegetable oils, wheat germ, leafy green vegetables, whole grains, and nuts.
Found in organ meats and seafood.
Even the pickiest of eaters can find something to satisfy their discerning taste buds. These foods are especially high in antioxidants, so eat up and enjoy!
- Spinach and other leafy veggies
- Berries like acai, goji, raspberry
- Purple grapes
- Dark chocolate (that which contains 70% or more cocoa
- Olive oil
- White tea
- Carrots, apricots, and other yellow and orange fruits and veggies
- Beans, peas, and lentils
- Salmon, mackerel, and other fatty fish