Lines, wrinkles, pigmentation along with loss of skin tone and elasticity are changes that occur as skin ages. Oxidative stress is a major factor in these changes – a fact that you have likely seen in any number of skin care articles or advertisements for skin care products. So what, exactly is oxidative stress, how does it cause skin aging, and most importantly, what steps can you take to protect your skin and minimize its effects?
About Oxidative Stress
Oxidative stress is gradual, cumulative damage done to the skin by free radicals that have not been adequately neutralized by antioxidants – the body's natural defense against these destructive molecules. Free radicals are unstable molecules that have an unpaired electron. Some free radicals are produced by the body's natural metabolic processes, but environmental stress, such as pollution, smoking, chemical exposure and UV radiation from the sun, are among the many factors that can prompt increased production of free radicals, overwhelming the body's ability to neutralize them quickly enough to prevent the damage they can cause.
Free radicals create damage by stripping electrons from other molecules in an effort to become stable, which creates more unstable molecules. This process damages proteins, cell membranes and DNA. In the skin, free radicals damage skin cells and break down collagen and elastin – vital proteins that provide the skin with its structure, tone, volume and strength. The result of that damage are familiar signs of aging – lines, wrinkles, pigmentation problems, poor skin texture and increased skin laxity.
How You Can Minimize The Skin Aging Affects Of Oxidative Stress
The first line of defense against oxidative stress is to reduce your exposure to factors that create excessive amounts of free radicals. That means protecting your skin from UV exposure as much as possible by using a quality sunscreen product every day, all year round, seeking shade when you are outdoors, and keeping as much skin covered during sun exposure as possible by wearing hats, sunglasses, long sleeves and long pants or skirts. Tobacco smoke sends free radical production sky-high, so if you smoke, quit, and make sure to avoid second hand smoke as well. Excessive alcohol use also promotes aggressive production of free radicals, so moderation is key to skin health. While air pollution is largely beyond our control, cleansing skin thoroughly twice daily can help reduce the amount of toxins that collect on the skin, limiting their contribution to oxidative damage.
As noted above, antioxidants are the body's natural defense against oxidative damage caused by free radicals, so making sure that you are getting plenty of them in your daily diet is essential to skin health. This is best done by consuming a well-balanced diet that includes lots of antioxidant-rich fresh fruits and vegetables and limits less desirable foods, like sugars, salt and highly processed or fried foods, that can contribute to excess production of free radicals.
Quality skin care products that contain antioxidants can also help minimize oxidative damage. Regular use of topical antioxidants increases antioxidant levels in the skin, improving its ability to neutralize free radicals before they cause harm. Ingredients that offer effective antioxidant protection for the skin include vitamin A, or retinol or tretinoin, vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, Vitamin B3, or niacinamide, and vitamin E, or a-tocopherol, as well as polyphenols, which are natural antioxidant agents present in many botanical skin care products. The effectiveness of these products depends heavily on the type of antioxidants they contain and whether they are in easily absorbed forms, so seeing a skin care professional for help in choosing your products is your best bet for getting effective skin protection. The number one caveat is that many products contain vitamin C in a form that cannot be absorbed; so, asking a skin care specialist is important before you waste your money.