Within every product description and skin care article currently resides the term ‘free radicals.’ Everyone seems to be talking about them, and more importantly how their products can combat them, but what exactly are free radicals? The short and simple answer is that they’re molecules with unpaired electrons. Due to their ‘free’ nature they’re very reactive and can cause damage to surrounding molecules in their quest to find another electron; the longer the search goes on, the more charged the molecule becomes, damaging other cells along the way. (Think of it like a really cross toddler looking for its twin, causing chaos in its wake during the search.) Free radicals are everywhere: in the air, our bodies and the materials
around us. They cause the deterioration of plastics, the fading of
paint, the rusting of metal, ageing related illnesses and can even contribute to heart attacks and strokes. However, recent
studies have now discovered they are also one of the main causes of skin
damage and, more worryingly, skin cancer.
When we’re young our cells have a defence system that reins-in and destroys free radicals before they have chance to attack our body. However, as we get older this system slows down. This leaves free radicals to have their wicked way with our cells – and when the damage gets to be too much, the cells die. It’s this cell death that can cause negative effects within our skin, with the visible results being the associated signs of ageing: loss of elasticity, pigment and ability to repair. Free radicals have also been implicated in a number of diseases and conditions that become more common as we age, including dementia, cancers and heart disease.
Presently, the single most common attack of free radicals comes from the sun. The sun gives off many free radicals in the form of UVA & UVB rays, which easily penetrate into the deeper layers of our skin and attack essential nutrients (such as Vitamin A, C & E and calcium.) Over time this means our skin can become nutrient-deprived, cells start to starve and become damaged. Once these cells are damaged, it can have a knock-on effect to other cells within the area – this can lead to a colony of deprived and damaged cells which can turn nasty. Free radicals can also come from pollution (not great if you live in a city,) as well as cigarette smoke (even worse if you’re a smoker.) Essentially, free radicals are everywhere we look and are indirectly out to get us.
Although we can’t actually stop free radicals from attacking us, we can minimise the extent of the damage and work towards the prevention of damage in the first place. Eating foods that are rich is anti-oxidants, such as berries and kale, will stimulate our natural defence system and encourage the depletion of free radicals attacking our body. Supplementing our diets with vitamins and minerals will also help to replace the ones that free radicals have destroyed, while wearing SPF under makeup every single day of the year (even when the sun isn’t shining) will help to prevent a bulk of the damage being done. There are also many beauty products now available that can help to combat some of the damage caused by free radicals by adding additional nutrients, as well as creating a protective barrier that helps to prevent further damage.
If you are concerned with how free radicals are attacking your skin or perhaps you are looking to prevent skin damage from the sun, pop by your local skin clinic for advice on products and prevention techniques. They will be able to give you advice on how to prevent ageing due to free radical attack and also suggest products which will encourage the renewal of skin cells. Are you concerned by free radicals, or do you think it’s just another beauty buzzword?
Written by Amy Bambrick