What Are Free Radicals, Anyway?

Free radicals: plural noun, an uncharged molecule (typically reactive and short-lived) having an unpaired valence electron.

Wait, whaaaat?

As lovers of all things ‘beauty’, we don’t doubt you’ve read about free radicals. In fact, you may well have even slipped the phrase into conversation when discussing your daily beauty plan and gushing about your favorite, antioxidant facial serum.

But while you might be fully aware that free radicals are bad for your skin, do you know the whys or the hows? No? Then pens and notebooks at the ready, people, crash course approaching…

What Is A Free Radical?

A free radical is basically a chemically unstable atom or group of atoms with unpaired electrons in its outermost shell. To make itself stable, it’s constantly trying to pinch another electron, therefore causing damage to anything that gets in its way – ie: neighboring molecules. Once it succeeds in stealing an electron from a poor, unsuspecting molecule, it becomes complete, but turns this next molecule into a free radical, which, then goes on its own stealing fest and thus starts a chain reaction known as a free radical cascade.

How Free Radicals Form

Although they can seemingly be produced by the human body for no apparent reason, free radicals are usually the result of exposure to heat, light, pollutants or other environmental aggressors. They can cause absolute havoc in the body and specifically in the skin. Why? Because oxygen is super-susceptible to free radical attacks and when oxygen becomes a free radical this causes lipid peroxidation (oxidative degradation of lipids in cell membranes). This results in all manner of cell damage, which can go on to cause premature aging and skin cancers.

The Best Way To Fight Free Radicals

One word: antioxidant. An antioxidant is a molecule that’s happy to give up electrons to free radicals. Not simply because it’s a kind and generous soul, but because it has the ability to maintain its stability afterwards. The human body has a pretty hard-working antioxidant defense mechanism, but when it’s subject to overexposure to the sun, a vodka bender or, heavens forbid, a barrage of cigarette smoke, it becomes overwhelmed with free radicals and simply can’t keep up. This is where an army of external antioxidants can come to the rescue – from both your diet and your skincare routine. Eat a least five servings or fruit and vegetables a day, plus plenty of whole-grains, nuts, beans and seeds – all of which are packed with a variety of antioxidants including vitamin C, vitamin E, beta carotene and polyphenols.

Skincare Solutions

Antioxidants are right up there with moisturizer, sunscreen and retinol in our list of skin must-haves. During the day, antioxidants not only fight free radicals but some can even up the efficacy of your sunscreen to help prevent sun damage and photoaging. And if you choose to apply one before bed, as well as an overnight free radical fight fest, a potent antioxidant will do wonders in helping the skin repair and heal itself.

Our advice when looking for a proven antioxidant treatment to incorporate into your plan? Always choose a medical-grade solution that’s been prescribed by your derm and make sure it includes a cocktail of different antioxidants. A high-potency vitamin C serum will have much less of an effect than a similar serum containing three or four different antioxidant ingredients. Fact.

Antioxidants to try: SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic®, Neova® Night Therapy and ZO® Skin Health Ossential® Daily Power Defense.

Written by: Georgia Gould