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What Are Free Radicals & Why Are They Bad For Your Skin?

Believe it or not, your skin is actually an organ. This organ covers your whole body, making it the largest one we have! Yet, it’s the most vulnerable part of us when it comes to external threats.

Pollutants and sun exposure can be damaging to the skin, which is why there are plenty of sunscreens and face washes around. And maybe you’ve seen the words ‘free radicals’ on bottles without knowing what they are. Well, let’s take a look together, to understand what free radicals are, and what exactly they do to our skin.

The Science of Free Radicals

Every single physical thing in the world is formed by molecules. Molecules themselves are made up of tiny atoms. And atoms are made up of pairs of electrons.

When atoms are missing an electron from their pair, it’s known as a free radical. The atom still wants to find another electron, so it searches for other atoms to steal, and it’s not fussy about where it will take it from.

One place the free radicals will try to steal from is our skin. These free-radical attacks cause oxidative stress, which damages DNA, weakens the living cells and tissues of our skin, and leaves us more vulnerable to some skin conditions and health problems.

Where Are Free Radicals?

Free radicals occur naturally in the body, as a byproduct of our metabolism, but they’re also triggered by outside pollutants and substances.

The most common places for free radicals to exist are:

  • Cigarette smoke
  • Smog & air pollution
  • Alcohol
  • Bad nutrition
  • Sun’s UV rays
  • Pesticides

    What Do Free Radicals Do To Skin?

    When the incomplete atoms are searching for their second electron from us, they damage the skin’s structural layers. 

    There are two components of the skin that free radicals are particularly harsh on; collagen and lipids. Collagen is what keeps our skin looking young and plump, and keeps it from sagging and wrinkling. Lipids are the skin’s natural fats – they hold moisture and protect the skin from dirt and bacteria. Both are essential parts of the skin!

    To understand more about how free radicals can impact our skin, here is how the skin’s structure works. Our skin has three layers:

      • Epidermis: The outer layer of the skin, forming a waterproof barrier, and gives us our skin tone. The colour comes cells called melanocytes, which creates the pigment, melanin. Lipids are held in the epidermis.
      • Dermis: The dermis sits just below the epidermis, and it’s where you find the hair follicles, sweat glands, nerves, and the tough connective tissue. Collagen is mainly found in the dermis layer.
      • Hypodermis (subcutaneous tissue): This is the innermost part of the skin, containing a layer of tissue, and primarily used for fat storage which insulates the body.

    Free radicals can damage the skin in various ways. They can cause harm to the epidermis and dermis layers of the skin, which leaves us susceptible to the symptoms of ageing, and changes in colour.

    It’s said that free radicals are responsible for 80% of the skin’s ageing. Ageing of the skin will appear as sagging and wrinkling, especially of the more sensitive skin, which is located around the eyes, the neck, and on our hands. The skin is thinner here, so it already lacks the same amount of lipids and collagen that other parts of our bodies have.

    Free radicals may also damage the melanocytes, causing brown spots to emerge, and broken blood vessels that will change the pigmentation of the skin. This may produce an unhealthy complexion or long-term blemishes that were not previously there.

    What Else Can Free Radicals Harm?

    Scientists claim that free radicals are also responsible for the high risk of many diseases when at high concentration. The reason is that free radicals cause harm to living cells and DNA, which would be responsible for increasing the risk of cancer as well as other serious health problems. 

    It’s also believed that free radicals can heighten the chance of developing degenerative diseases, such as asthma, diabetes, dementia, and inflammatory joint disease. The damage to our cells and proteins can go beyond the skin, so steering clear of free radicals where you can, will be beneficial to your overall health.

    How To Stay Safe From Free Radicals

    The key to keeping yourself healthy and safe from the threat of free radicals is by using and consuming antioxidants! You can do this through the means of skincare and diet. Certain foods are high in antioxidants, great for your skin, immune system, and general bodily functions.

    Here are some ingredients and vitamins you should include in your diet to protect you from the damage of free radicals:

    • Vitamin C: This vitamin is essential for having good skin, because it is abundant in antioxidants, and actually plays a vital role in the structuring process of the skin. It’s proven to fight against free radicals. Find Vitamin C in fruits, such as oranges, grapefruit, kiwis, and berries.
    • Vitamin E: Naturally occurring in the body, it improves the appearance of wrinkles and ageing, by soothing and firming the skin. You’ll find Vitamin E in nuts, seeds, green leafy vegetables such as spinach and broccoli, and vegetable oils.
    • Green Tea: Green tea is used all over the world to treat small ailments and to cleanse the body. It’s full of antioxidants, which help the skin by reducing the signs of ageing, improving the appearance of breakouts and dark circles, and helping to control levels of oiliness on the skin.

    Applying antioxidants topically can be extremely beneficial for the health of your skin, so look for serums and face creams that contain the vitamins listed above.

    And, you should always apply sunscreen, even on the cloudy days. The UV rays from the sun are capable of damaging the skin in any weather and are responsible for early ageing of the skin. Always use a moisturising SPF 30+.

    Final Thoughts on Free Radicals

    Protecting your skin has never been more important, because of the environmental pollutants that are in the air, everywhere. Maintaining a healthy and nutritious diet is advantageous to your skin, as well as your overall wellbeing. Give your skin the treatment it needs, using effective and nourishing skincare products, to protect and repair skin that is vulnerable to free radicals. 

    Sources

    https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/diet/antioxidants-fact-sheet

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7619452

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    Clara Hallifax

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