Updated 12/1/17. Have you ever heard of oxidative stress and how it can harm your skin and lead to the appearance of wrinkles, brown spots and inflammation? If you haven’t, it’s about time you did. I’ve got a great experiment that will show you exactly what it does to your skin and give you my expert skincare advice for preventing the negative impact.
First, let me give you a quick science lesson. (I know all my readers are serious skincare enthusiasts and love to get all the details.)
Most scientists agree that one of the primary reasons we age is because unstable electrons in molecules (called free radicals) attack healthy cells and change their composition. This then causes the cells to no longer function the way normal, younger cells do. Simply put, we age due to changed cells and this occurs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Molecular biologists have identified three species (families) of free radicals:
- Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS)
- Reactive Carbonyl Species (RCS)
- Reactive Nitrogen Species (RNS)
The most damaging of these is the Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS). We are exposed to ROS from the air we breathe (oxygen), cigarette smoke, UV sunlight, stress and smog. Also known as oxidative stress, ROS attacks all areas of cells, mutates DNA, destroys the skin’s moisture barrier, damages the dermis layer of the skin, causes inflammation and gives the skin wrinkles, brown spots and a rough texture. Topically applying skincare products that are formulated with antioxidants (vitamins), as well as eating fruits and vegetables that are high in antioxidants, can dramatically lessen this oxidative damage.
Reactive Carbonyl Species (RCS) is a carbon-based radical resulting from alcohol consumption and eating simply carbohydrates such as sugar, white flour, white rice and pasta. They cause what is known as glycation, where a sugar-like coating forms on the skin proteins making them hard and inflexible resulting in loss of tone (sagging), both deep wrinkles and fine lines and dark, discolored brown spots.
Reactive Nitrogen Species (RNS) is a nitrogen-based radical mainly found in the environment like parks, woods, farmlands and gardens and are given off by nitrogen-rich soil like fertilizers, car exhaust and the “exhalations” made by trees. These change youthening proteins in the skin increasing inflammation and trigger cell death.
While this all sounds so dramatic, it’s simply the truth of what occurs within the skin. But, no worries. I do have some good news so keep on reading!
A great visual example of oxidation can be found in apples. After seeing the Good Apple / Bad Apple Experiment by my friend, author and speaker Danielle LaPorte, I decided to try my own experiment in my Austin home to show the benefits of antioxidants in lessening oxidation of the skin.
What I used:
- A gala apple (the kind I eat most every night of the year. After all, an apple a day keeps the doctor way, right?)
- Vitamin C&E Treatment (a potent skin care product that uses magnesium ascorbyl phosphate, a stable form of vitamin C)
What I did:
I simply cut out a piece of an apple and applied a thin coat (about the same amount you would apply to your face) to half of the slice and waited for over an hour.
As you can see (and I promise you, there was no fancy photo filtering done to the apple!), there is a significant difference between the untreated side of the apple and the treated side of the apple. This shows how topical vitamin C can interfere with the natural oxidative processes that form melanin and therefore slow down the visible appearance of skin damage that occurs from both inside and out.
It’s important to note that you could get the same result from applying lemon juice to an apple. However, you would absolutely never, ever want to apply pure lemon juice to the skin, as that would cause severe dryness and irritation. Plus, pure lemon juice doesn’t have the delivery system and stability of a well-formulated skin care serum, so it would not give any preventative aging benefit anyways.
In conclusion, from barrier repair via lipid oxidation reduction, to improved elasticity via glycation prevention, prolonged cell longevity and increased energy via mitochondrial protection, antioxidants have more scientific applications in skin products than most ingredient groups available. This is why I use so many of them in the products I formulate.
One of the very best ways to prevent skin oxidation by mitigating damaging free radical activity is to apply skincare products that contain stable, non-oxidized antioxidants such as Vitamin C&E Treatment to the face every morning. If you’re not using something with antioxidants under your daily sunscreen, it’s definitely time to start aging smartly and give your skin some serious protection. Applying a vitamin C serum topically can essentially keep your skin from turning brown (by preventing and fading brown spots due to its melanin-suppressing properties), as well as increase collagen, make your skin look brighter, fresher and more even-toned and give a more youthful glow. Finally, make sure the vitamin C serum you’re using doesn’t do THIS.
One final thought, it’s important to know that the complexity of our skin cell’s antioxidant protection needs and that just vitamins C and E cannot control the many forms of ROS, RCS and RNS; therefore a concert of antioxidants that complement each other’s actions are needed to ensure that as many free radical families are being neutralized. A product I suggest for nighttime use is Firm + Repair Overnight Serum because of all the powerful superfruits and superfoods it contains that help to manage oxidative stress from within.
Along with an antioxidant serum, you should definitely be using a well-formulated product containing retinol. Read my beginner’s guide to using retinol or prescription retinoids.
Celebrity Esthetician & Skincare Expert
As an esthetician trained in cosmetic chemistry, Renée Rouleau has spent 30 years researching skin, educating her audience, and building an award-winning line of products. Trusted by celebrities, editors, bloggers, and skincare obsessives around the globe, her vast real-world knowledge and constant research are why Marie Claire calls her “the most passionate skin practitioner we know.”