Antioxidants: What are they and why do I need them?
Welcome back Face Freaks,
About 15 years ago I started to see labels change with the word antioxidant strewn across everything from sunscreen to posh, freshly chilled beverages in the supermarket cold-case. To be honest, I didn’t know what it meant and I didn’t really care. Marketers were clearly aware of trends that I was not even close to considering important yet. Eventually I slowly started to read more about why antioxidants were helpful and how they could do good things for your body. But, I still didn’t care enough to change my purchasing patterns, and that, as you know, is when we really shift—when we consistently put our money into something is when we’ve really invested in it, or are at least willing to start trying.
Now, I’m a changed woman. I cannot possibly pretend to be cognizant of all of the immensely complex chemical associations surrounding antioxidants, but I have been made keenly aware of them by my utter lack of care surrounding the way I treated my skin for decades. Because now it shows.
What the heck are antioxidants anyway?
Dictionary.com defines antioxidants as such: “an enzyme or other organic substance, as vitamin E or beta carotene, that is capable of counteracting the damaging effects of oxidation in animal tissues.”
So what. What is oxidation?
La Roche-Posay, a major sunscreen manufacturer, says that “Cellular oxidation, [is] a major process of skin ageing…. [O]xidative stress damages both the skin's epidermal and dermal cells and contributes to their degeneration.” Cite.
What’s an epidermal and dermal cell?
The epidermis is the top layer of skin on your body. The dermal cells are layers beneath the top of the surface.
What causes oxidation?
For most, the sun is the biggest player here. UVA and UVB are both terms thrown around when discussing a sunscreen’s ability to protect you from the sun. UVB (“B” think BURN) protects you from getting flat out burned, but UVA addresses a sunscreen’s (hopefully!) ability to protect you from oxidative stress.
La Roche-Posay (from the same article above) says, “Our environment, pollution, solar radiation and cigarette smoke generate free radicals in the skin which can be destructive with varying degrees of severity. Proteins (collagen, elastane), cellular membrane lipids and DNA can be damaged causing disorders that can range from premature ageing to cancer. We therefore need to protect ourselves against them.”
If you’ve been following Caroline Hirons for even a short amount of time, she very rightly yells about protecting your skin from both types of damage quite regularly (her yelling and the need to protect!). She has referred to sunscreen as being the single most important way to protect yourself from premature and excessive aging more times than I could possibly count.
I highly recommend reading a couple of her things here:
Hirons’ cheat sheet doesn’t include several new types of antioxidants that are coming across my radar recently: resveratrol, ferulic acid, EUK, and alpha lipoic acid.
The Ordinary makes versions of all of these in addition to the very clear-cut antioxidants Vitamin A and Vitamin C.
For a more in-depth discussion of Vitamin A, here is my recent blog on the topic.
“This formula combines very high concentrations of two of the most powerful and important antioxidants in skincare: Resveratrol and Ferulic Acid. Resveratrol is a natural phenol found in several plants and our pure source is 100% derived from Japanese Knotweed. Ferulic Acid is a high-potency phytochemical antioxidant found naturally in walls of plant cells.
Skincare formulations generally incorporate Resveratrol at 1% or less and Ferulic Acid at 0.5% or less. This formula contains each at 3%, an exceptionally high concentration.
Note: Water can impair the stability of any antioxidant. This formula does not contain any water, silicones, oils or alcohol.”
“We are often asked to keep things simple so here it is... say a warm hello to ethylbisiminomethylguaiacol manganese chloride 🙈, also called EUK 134 (a "warm hello" because you'll feel a warming sensation when using EUK 134). In very simple terms, our new EUK 134 0.1% is a super-strong antioxidant that regenerates itself, unlike most antioxidants. It's best used once a day in the AM on its own or it can be mixed with non-acidic formulations if desired. Now the more complicated things... Everyone talks about antioxidants as if they're all basically the same thing. Almost everything from green tea to Vitamin C to hydroquinone is an antioxidant but most antioxidants are not able to regenerate as they scavenge free radicals. EUK 134 is a biomimetic of catalase and superoxide dismutase enzyme. It fights free radicals, reactive oxygen species (ROS) and hydrogen peroxide but after each antioxidant reaction, it regenerates itself so that it can undertake another antioxidant reaction. It's been shown to reduce visible redness and protect against appearance of UV damage. Now the PS: a) The formula is free of water, silicones, oils and alcohol; b) The 0.1% concentration is an extremely high concentration and more than 10 times the low suggested amount used in many formulations; c) EUK 134 has a brown hue. Other formulations that look more “elegant” in colour aren’t using any better form of EUK 134; they’re just using far less EUK 134; d) EUK 134 should not be combined with acids; they react very quickly (and we don’t understand why some formulas contain both acids and EUK 134); e) Don’t let the accessible price of this formula misguide you. Some brands claim that their EUK 134 costs more than $30,000+ per gram; trust us that they possibly meant $30,000+ per kilogram at most, a mistake that reflects an exaggeration of 1000 times. Yes, EUK 134 is expensive but no one we know uses anywhere close to the 0.1% that we use, which means the final formula doesn’t need to be inaccessible.”
“You might have heard that Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) is an amazing antioxidant. You might even already know that it's soluble in both oil and water meaning it can be absorbed really well. And you might have also read that its antioxidant capacity is 40,000% stronger than networks of Vitamins C and E together. But there are many things you may not know about ALA: a) ALA can give you a glow overnight after a single application; b) ALA can oxidize both in water and in oil (yet most formulas of ALA contain one or both); c) ALA is not expensive despite some extremely expensive formulas on the market with ALA; d) ALA does not need to be used every day for amazing results. The Ordinary's Alpha Lipoic Acid 5% formula does not contain water, oil, silicones or alcohol and concentrates 5% pure ALA (the strongest concentration we know of by far) for a glow that starts after the first application. And the best part is that you would only use a few drops 2-3 times per week, meaning the 30ml bottle lasts for ages.”
If you really want to nerd up, then I highly recommend The Ordinary’s discussion of Vitamin C formulation, one of the most regularly used types of antioxidant on the market.
My favorite Vitamin C offering from their mid-tier range:
Deciem offers seven different types of Vitamin C formulations with varying price points and strengths: the above, and these:
Brandon Truaxe of Deciem has stated (here is a recap) that Vitamin C is one antioxidant that can be unsuitable for very acneic prone skin, as it can cause flare ups. So definitely consider going with one of the other types if that is an issue you are dealing with.
Lastly I want to talk about another newer range of NIOD products (yes, Deciem again, I know…) called Survival. They combine antioxidants with sun protection, and in their basic product only antioxidants unlike any that we’ve yet discussed. The line is called Survival. There are three which provide UVA/UVB protection, but also combine that with antioxidant protection.
NIOD Survival 0 (Antioxidants only--no sun protection)
It mainly discusses why Deciem chooses to use Zinc oxide and Titanium Dioxide rather than chemical sunscreen elements, and seeks to repeal a lot of misinformation about sunscreen formulation and usage out in the general public.
The really amazing part of this product line though, to me, is the 0. The list on their website of all of the ingredients it includes is staggering in both its breadth, and in my ability to understand it all. (It makes me want to become a chemist for sure though!) All I can say though is read through their literature. Because if it even does a fraction of what it says it can do, it sounds pretty marvelous to me in its ability to fight free radicals and protect your skin and mine from so many bombardments we are attacked with day in and day out. It’s definitely on my to-buy list! If you decide that you want to invest in one of the sunscreens, Deciem is still waiting on approval from the FDA to be able to sell here. You can find them quite easily by going to Victoria Health’s website, although the prices will be higher from the conversion from the British pound to the US dollar. For now, Survival 0 is available to purchase here in the US from my link above.
If you like the way undamaged skin looks, if you’ve ignored your skin like I did in the past, if you smoke, or live in a polluted environment, or if you have healthy skin and want to keep it that way, antioxidants are all for you.
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