Antioxidants, Free Radicals + Oxidative Stress

Author Team Essentialist

We throw these words around a lot in the skincare world so we thought a better understanding would be beneficial. The more you know, the more you can do to help yourself, right?

Let’s start with free radicals, the pesky molecules we can thank for breaking down collagen and manifesting many of the unflattering conditions we all want to avoid like blemishes, wrinkles, fine lines, dark spots, loose and sagging skin. Of course they’re not the only contributing factors but they’re significant in that they damage and visibly age skin. 

Without getting overly technical, free radicals are essentially a molecular species that have an unpaired electron. This missing electron is what makes them unstable and triggers the free radical reaction process. The reaction goes like this: the free radical seeks to stabilize itself so it steals an electron from another (otherwise stable) molecule triggering the robbed molecule to now become unstable. It's a simplified explanation of a complex process, the takeaway is that this instability is damaging to our DNA and accelerates the aging process in our skin.

So now you probably want to know how you can help your body fight these menacing molecules?  Enter antioxidants. Antioxidants are the hero molecules able to scavenge for free radicals and combat their reactionary process. They do this by donating an electron to the free radical without making themselves unstable. This neutralizing function causes free radicals to become less reactive. 

Now when you hear the term oxidative stress, it means free radicals and antioxidants are out of balance. FYI a primary contributing factor in oxidative stress is photo-damage caused by UV radiation (so please wear sunscreen and stop the summer sun baking). When the balance tips in favor of the free radicals they start wreaking havoc on fatty tissue, DNA, and proteins in the body which overtime can lead to a number of conditions and diseases. It’s obviously more nuanced but the takeaway is that oxidative stress is actively damaging healthy cells. 

We first have to accept that some free radicals will be produced naturally in the body through inflammation but environmental factors like pollution, pesticides, carbon monoxide, and radiation are persistent sources of external exposure. A poor diet high fats and refined sugar, high alcohol consumption, and smoking will also trigger free radical production. Of course, we can’t control all of the external factors at play and we wouldn't want to exist in a bubble, for us the key is simply awareness. 

The best approach to take is to enrich your body with a consistent supply of antioxidants so it's able to keep oxidative stress in check. The two easiest ways to get your antioxidants are by ingesting them or applying them topically. If you consume a healthy vitamin rich diet rich with plenty of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes you’re probably getting an ample supply already. Though there are other sources and supplements the most potent and accessible antioxidants fall within the above categories, so do yourself a favor and pack them in. Take a look at your diet and, if you’re falling short, no self-judgement required simply make the necessary tweaks.

Topical application with quality skincare products is where we can help. Regular use of antioxidant enhanced formulas will help your skin directly neutralize free radical activity and combat oxidative stress. Essentialist formulas are packed with fruit, seed, and botanical oils, essences, and extracts, all of which all contain antioxidant rich vitamins and phytochemical compounds like phenolics, polyphenols, flavonoids, and resveratrol. 

Though not all products have added vitamins it is wise to get an extra boost where you can. Look for serums, creams, and treatments with one or more of the following: vitamin A (retinol), vitamin B3 (niacinamide), vitamin C (we favor either l-ascorbic acid or the more stable magnesium ascorbyl phosphate), and vitamin E (in the form of d-alpha-tocopherol). These vitamins are all antioxidant powerhouses that you skin will benefit from with regular use. Pro tip, though potent on their own, when Vitamin C & E are used together their strength is amplified. Check out our Ingredients page which covers the properties and benefits of every single ingredient we use.  

We hope that shed some light on the critical role antioxidants play in helping you stay healthy. We know you care about your inner health as well as your outward appearance so be mindful and make sure you're getting the antioxidants you need- your future self will thank you!