Free radicals, radicals and anti-oxidants and the cause they have on the skin
So, what exactly is a free radical?
The medical definition is: A radical, extremely reactive and having a very short life that carries an impaired electron.
Okay, still none the wiser?
To answer this question, we first need to understand what a radical is, as a free radical is exactly the opposite of a radical.
What is a radical?
In chemistry the medical definition is: A substance that, when dissolved in water, will dissociate into elements or groups of elements that will each carry a positive or negative electron.
In order to illustrate this, we need to pretend that a radical is the lower back half of a human being. Round bottom with two legs protruding. The body of the radical is the substance. The two legs relate to the electron one of the legs is the positive electron with the other leg being the negative electron. In its entire form i.e. Complete with all its legs, the radical can easily and effectively play its role in helping to keep the skin immune system healthy and significantly reduce the effects that pollution, smoking, poor diet drugs, alcohol, stress, hormones, sun exposure etc. have on the skin. The number of electrons in its outer shell determines the protective ability of radicals. This protection diminishes with both the level of exposure we have to these factors, and with age.
Now, for a period of time, we’ll over indulge in sunbathing and smoking. This puts a strain on the radical with the weaker radicals splitting. Once a radical has split i.e. lost one of its legs this immediately renders the radical unstable (and it doesn’t matter if it’s the positive or negative electron leg it now has an impaired electron). With one leg, it not only is unable to carry out its role, it now hinders the role of the other radicals, and in other words it has now become a free radical. In an attempt to try to make itself whole again, the free radical will now hunt out a radical and rob the radical of the respective leg (positive or negative) that it’s missing. Thus, the free radical chain reaction has begun (a little like dominoes).
Anti-oxidants are known as free radical scavengers, helping prevent cell and tissue damage that could lead to cellular damage and disease. They can safely neutralise free radicals by donating one of their own electrons ending the electron ‘stealing’ reaction. Anti-oxidants are stable in either form and therefore do not themselves become a free radical. Although there are several enzyme systems within the body that scavenge free radicals, the main anti-oxidants are:
Vitamin E – The most abundant fat-soluble anti-oxidant in the body. Primary defender against oxidation. One of the most efficient chain-breaking anti-oxidants available. (Present in nuts, seeds, vegetables and fish oils, whole grains (esp. wheat germ), fortified cereals and apricots).
Vitamin C – The most abundant water-soluble anti-oxidants in the body. Acts primarily in cellular fluid. Combats free-radical formation caused by pollution and cigarettes smoke. Also helps return vitamin E to its active form. (Present in citrus fruits and juices, green peppers cabbage, spinach, broccoli, kale, cantaloupe, kiwi and strawberries).
Of course, using skin care products that contain high levels of vitamin C and E is not the complete answer. The body cannot manufacture these vitamins, so it is important that they are also supplied in the diet.