What is free radical damage?
There’s much talk about damaging ‘free-radicals’ in the beauty world but what exactly are these beauty ‘devils’ and are they always harmful? Free radicals are unstable molecules in the body that can cause DNA mutation, they have been linked to ageing as well as serious illnesses such as cancer, heart disease and Parkinsons, but are not always bad. Free radicals occur as part of a natural metabolic process in the body called oxidation and are a vital part of the body’s natural defenses (immune cells shoot out free radicals to fight invading bacteria, for example), however too many and they can cause damage.
This is because external factors, such as pollution, smoking, and UV rays (otherwise known as the Exposome) can generate so many free radicals that the bodies natural defenses are overwhelmed - a phenomenon known as oxidative stress - which causes free radical damage at the cell level. Triggered by these external factors, free radical damage has been shown to accelerate visible signs of ageing as well as disease.
So, where do antioxidants - known to combat free radicals - come in? Any molecule that protects your body against free radicals is known as an antioxidant, as they are “anti-oxidation”. Antioxidants help to fight the negative effects free radicals have on our skin by offering themselves as a shield and acting as a substitute for the skin molecules that free radicals usually latch onto. With over 8000 varieties, including vitamins, polyphenols and flavonoids there are plenty of antioxidants that can be effective, both imbibed in foods and supplements and applied externally to skin.