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From a chemical point of view, a free radical is an atom with at least one unpaired electron. So it’s an unstable and highly-charged particle which needs to borrow an electron to become stable. Therefore, a free radical becomes stable by stealing an electron from another atom, which in turn now becomes an unstable free radical. And hence the chain starts. In our skin, this chain of stealing electrons can be thousands of links long and as a result destroys the structure of cells in our skin causing aging and wrinkles. In our skin, the collagen cells provide strength and elasticity. A free radical can damage an active collagen strand. Over a period of time, these free radicals can chip away a lot of collagen strands causing the skin to sag and wrinkle.
Free radicals are created in our body every time the food is oxidized to create energy. The other most common causes of free radicals are excess sun, smoking, stress and obesity. We cannot stop the natural processes such as oxidation of food but we can surely prevent too much exposure to sun, smoking, or a stressful life. Even then, we need something to counter the free radicals produced because of chemical processes in our body. Once produced, these free radicals- which are highly charged oxygen molecules- can be neutralized by chemicals which donate electrons to these free radicals and prevent the chain reaction of electron-stealing. These chemicals are known as antioxidants. Antioxidants are able to donate the missing electron to a free radical without the antioxidant becoming a free radical. In this manner, antioxidants prevent free radical damage or in other words, they slow the aging process. Common antioxidants are Vitamins A, C, E, and beta carotene.
Why Do We Need Antioxidants?
It is estimated that each keratinocyte (cells in the skin’s outer epidermal layer) in our skin is exposed to 5,000 free radicals every day. As a result, our skin has the potential to age faster than any other organ in the body, and because of a decreased supply of antioxidants, the aging process becomes faster every year.
Antioxidants are important because they significantly reduce the production of damaging free radicals by UV light. These protective antioxidants, such as vitamins A, C or E, can help prevent skin cancer and keep skin firm and young looking. Both oral (pills and food containing healthy A, C, and E vitamins) as well as topical creams with antioxidants are effective therapies.
Antioxidants can also play a role in the prevention of age-related degeneration of eye tissue.
What to Do?
- Have a diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables and avoid smoking (a major cause of free-radical buildup).
- Consult a doctor for recommending a daily intake of an antioxidant supplement.
- Consult your doctor for topical antioxidant creams. Topically applied antioxidants in an absorbable form can reduce skin damage significantly by putting the anti-aging mechanisms directly into the skin.
Antioxidants cannot prevent the natural aging process of the skin. As we grow older, our skin tends to sag and form wrinkles. Antioxidants can only prevent the damage caused by free radicals and can slow the aging process.
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