We guz­zle them in juices and slap them on our faces, but are an­tiox­i­dants the skin-sav­ing mir­a­cle they’re cracked up to be?

Marie Claire (South Africa) - - CONTENTS -

An­tiox­i­dants un­cov­ered

WHAT IS ALL THE FUSS ABOUT AN­TIOX­I­DANTS? We’re told they can pre­vent ev­ery­thing, from can­cer to the im­per­ti­nent signs of age­ing. And the beauty in­dus­try is ob­sessed with them (they’re the most pop­u­lar skin­care in­gre­di­ent ever, ac­cord­ing to global mar­ket an­a­lysts Min­tel). While it might sound churl­ish to deny their prow­ess, I’m still a lit­tle du­bi­ous about their cure-all ap­proach. So, in or­der to clear up any con­fu­sion, I want to know what they do, if they work, and whether all an­tiox­i­dants are cre­ated equal.


Take an ap­ple, cut it in half, leave it out for an hour and watch as the esh turns a murky brown. That process is ox­i­da­tion, and it’s caused by free rad­i­cals in the air. In part, the same thing hap­pens when it comes to our bod­ies. When we’re ex­posed to UV, pol­lu­tion or other stres­sors such as smoke and chem­i­cals, free rad­i­cals form in the skin. At a cel­lu­lar level, th­ese free rad­i­cals can kick off a chain re­ac­tion that causes a huge path of de­struc­tion and of­ten, ul­ti­mately, the death of the cell. But an­tiox­i­dants neu­tralise free rad­i­cals and halt the process, which means they’re all kinds of awe­some. Com­mon an­tiox­i­dants in­clude vi­ta­mins C and E, coenzyme Q10, Idebenone, zinc, cop­per and be­tac­arotene, but the list is end­less – there are mil­lions of them, with many dif­fer­ent func­tions. Our bod­ies do pro­duce their own an­tiox­i­dants (made by our cells), which neu­tralise 99.9% of free rad­i­cals. But by the age of 30, our cells can no longer elim­i­nate them fast enough – and that’s when ne lines and col­la­gen de­ple­tion set in.

One of the big claims for an­tiox­i­dants when used in skin­care is that they calm in am­ma­tion by in­creas­ing cir­cu­la­tion and cell me­tab­o­lism. They’re also used for re­duc­ing the ap­pear­ance of scar tis­sue and re­pair­ing sun dam­age.


It’s only over the past 10 years that the beauty in­dus­try has re­ally wo­ken up to the value of the an­tiox­i­dant, and us­ing ex­tracts from foods such as pome­gran­ate, green tea, grape seed and mush­rooms has be­come stan­dard prac­tice. I’ve trawled piles of sci­enti c jour­nals to check

whether they’re wor­thy of the praise, and it’s true – the facts add up in favour of an­tiox­i­dants and their ef­fects on the body. But that doesn’t mean they al­ways work as part of a beauty regime.

When for­mu­lat­ing skin­care prod­ucts, you can’t just throw in a shed­load of an­tiox­i­dants and hope for the best. There are three key fac­tors in­volved: how to keep them sta­ble in the prod­uct (an­tiox­i­dants are eas­ily per­ish­able); how well they are ac­tu­ally ab­sorbed into the skin; and what con­cen­tra­tions are nec­es­sary to make them ef­fec­tive with­out be­ing an ir­ri­tant.

Let’s take the is­sue of sta­bil­ity rst. The big­gest prob­lem is ex­po­sure to light, which fa­cil­i­tates the break­down of an­tiox­i­dants, ren­der­ing them less po­tent. One way of solv­ing this is by pack­ag­ing skin­care in opaque bot­tles and metal tubes. It’s a sim­ple mea­sure, but an ef­fec­tive one. And abid­ing by the ‘use within’ dates stated on the bot­tom of ev­ery prod­uct is vi­tal; if it says 6-12 months, stick to this to see the true ef­fects.

Now to tackle an­tiox­i­dant ab­sorp­tion. We know that when you en­joy a green juice or a load of berries, an­tiox­i­dants are cir­cu­lated through the body in our blood and ab­sorbed into the cells. But part of the con­cern about ap­ply­ing an­tiox­i­dants top­i­cally has been that they may not be ab­sorbed. Dr Mike Bell, skin­care sci­enti c ad­vi­sor at UK phar­macy chain Boots, ex­plains why this isn’t the case. ‘Top­i­cal an­tiox­i­dants work by quench­ing the free rad­i­cals that are on the skin’s sur­face, and by sup­port­ing the skin’s own nat­u­ral an­tiox­i­dant sys­tems in the sur­face lay­ers of the skin,’ he says. Put sim­ply, they neu­tralise free rad­i­cals on the top few lay­ers of your skin, then trig­ger your body’s sys­tems to ght any­thing that’s a bit deeper. Com­bin­ing them with your in­ter­nal an­tiox­i­dants (which we ob­tain from our di­ets) is the ideal way to quash ox­i­da­tion on the in­side, too.

Fi­nally, how do we get the right com­bi­na­tion to keep our skin look­ing swell? ‘There are a num­ber of dif­fer­ent types of free rad­i­cals gen­er­ated in the skin, de­pend­ing on what the ex­ter­nal stres­sor is,’ says Mike. ‘But a blend of an­tiox­i­dants is re­quired to tackle the key free rad­i­cals that cause ac­cel­er­ated age­ing.’ Es­sen­tially, there’s an an­tiox­i­dant to cor­rect all our en­vi­ron­men­tal ills, you just need to know what you’re look­ing for.


Now we know that one an­tiox­i­dant does not cure all, it makes sense that we’re ad­vised to have va­ri­ety in our di­ets. It’s not all about the berries and ex­pen­sive stuff, ei­ther. Su­per­foods (es­pe­cially fresh pro­duce) are great, but by the time they’ve reached you they’re not quite so su­per. Con­sult the ORAC scale (just Google it), to dis­cover the an­tiox­i­dant ca­pac­ity of var­i­ous foods. Dr Dendy En­gel­man, El­iz­a­beth Ar­den der­ma­tol­o­gist, also rec­om­mends sup­port­ing your diet with oral an­tiox­i­dant sup­ple­ments – your best bet is a hum­ble vi­ta­min C tablet, be­cause any ex­cess the body doesn’t use is ex­creted, rather than be­ing stored by the body (po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous).

The main mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tion when it comes to an­tiox­i­dants is that they will solve ev­ery­thing skin-re­lated – they won’t. But, used wisely – in com­bi­na­tion with your trusty SPF and a healthy diet – they can form a sound part of any anti-age­ing rou­tine, and you should de nitely get on board. I’m en­tirely con­vinced, which rarely hap­pens – and sorry that I ever doubted their bril­liance.


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