As skin health professionals, we know how vitally important daily use of a broad spectrum sunscreen is to the overall health of our skin. We also know that no SPF can protect the skin from 100% of the harmful UVA/UVB rays emitted from the sun, meaning the skin can fall victim to free radical damage. But what, exactly, are free radicals?
Free radicals cause oxidative stress, which can occur due to internal or external factors and disrupt the homeostasis within the skin. Radicals are molecules or ions with an unpaired electron. The unpaired electron is what causes oxidative stress, and contributes to aging and disease. Free radical formation is actually a part of the normal cell metabolism that occurs within our cells’ mitochondria.
External sources, however, can send this normal function into hyperactive mode, wreaking havoc on the health of the skin.
Although our body produces its own antioxidants internally, supplementation and topically applied antioxidants are still necessary for optimal skin health — which is why integrating antioxidants into daily care regimens is imperative.
If understanding what a free radical is wasn’t enough, there are also three levels of antioxidant function: primary antioxidants, secondary antioxidants and co-antioxidants. Primary antioxidants function by donating an electron to disable the free radical from further damage. Secondary antioxidants chelate metal ions that are rich with electrons; metal ions are capable of triggering oxidation by donating or taking an electron, and secondary antioxidants eliminate the potential radical initiators by removing or chelating the metals. Co-antioxidants facilitate the antioxidant function of other compounds.