What Are Free Radicals And How Do They Affect Skin?

what are free radicals and how do they affect skin
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Two words: Free. Radicals. The dermatology community has been discussing this phrase for many years now, and you’ve probably seen it on the front of your favorite serums and face creams. But how many people actually know what a free radical is? Why are those two words suddenly everywhere in the world of skin care? And why do so many products now talk about fighting or neutralizing free radicals?

Let’s take a look at what free radicals are, the effect they have on our skin, and what you can do to fight free radicals in your daily routine.

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What are free radicals? 

Free radicals are unstable atoms that can damage the cells in the body. They can either be produced in the body through natural biological processes, or introduced from an outside source, like tobacco smoke, sun exposure, toxins, or pollutants. Free radicals damage cell proteins and DNA by altering their chemical structure. 

How do free radicals damage the skin? 

When there are many free radicals, a process called oxidative stress is triggered. Our body can fight free radicals through its own antioxidant defenses, but when the antioxidant-producing capacity becomes overwhelmed by the number of free radicals, damage can occur as our body can no longer neutralize them. 

In the skin, this damage can present through fine lines and wrinkles, a dull, uneven skin tone, an increase in pigmented spots, and the breakdown of essential proteins in the skin. Simply put – the signs of skin aging. 

How do antioxidants fight free radicals? 

Antioxidants bind with free radicals in order to make them stable atoms, thus neutralizing them and preventing further damage. Our body produces antioxidants, but the repair processes to counter the effects of sun damage, pollution, and other aging triggers (such as cigarette smoke) do not work as effectively as we age.  

Read more: how pollution affects your skin

Applying antioxidants onto the skin can help boost your body’s antioxidant-generating capacity, or directly help to neutralize free radicals. When applied topically, antioxidants can help to slow down the processes which break down the proteins in the skin, such as collagen fibers. This means that you can also slow down the signs of premature skin aging and help your skin to remain supple, bright, and uniform in tone. 

How can I use antioxidants in skincare? 

When choosing a skincare routine, select products which provide you with round-the-clock antioxidant care. You can include products which contain antioxidants either in your morning skincare routine, or your night-time one – or both! 

One of the most convenient ways to get your daily dose of antioxidant care is through a serum, the ‘treatment’ step of your routine. Serums are designed to provide targeted care, while also hydrating the skin. 

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Knowing which antioxidants to look for can help when deciding on the products which are right for you and your skincare routine – such as a serum, face cream or sunscreen. Remember, you can change up your AM and PM skincare routines – for example, you might want to apply a night serum in the evening, and you’ll only need sunscreen while the sun’s out. 

Here are some common antioxidants you can look for when choosing your ideal skincare products: 

Vitamin C

Vitamin C’s benefits go further than your daily glass of orange juice. In skincare, vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that helps to neutralize free radicals and protect against oxidative stress. In addition, it promotes the synthesis of collagen in the skin and the regeneration of healthy skin.

Vitamin B3

One of the forms of vitamin B3 is more commonly referred to as niacinamide, and it’s this ingredient that you’ll often see in skincare. Studies have shown topical application can reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, and redness. 

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is found in various skincare products, including our Eryfotona Actinica and Eryfotona Ageless 100% mineral sunscreens. This antioxidant helps to boost skin’s natural defenses, protect against environmental damage and fight the early signs of skin aging.

Ginkgo biloba

Ginkgo biloba leaf extract is a powerful antioxidant with a high concentration of antioxidant compounds, which help to neutralize and decrease the negative effects of free radicals, helping to protect the skin from damage


You may have heard of melatonin as the hormone which helps to regulate your sleep/wake cycle, but when topically applied, research has shown that melatonin acts as an antioxidant. A melatonin serum (like Isdinceutics Melatonik) applied to the skin activates the synthesis of antioxidant enzymes, which work to block free radicals and repair oxidative damage.

Read more: how melatonin repairs skin at night

Green tea

Green tea is a famously powerful antioxidant, containing polyphenols which, when topically applied, help to reduce the effects of UV-induced skin inflammation, oxidative stress and DNA damage. 

what are free radicals and how to fight them with antioxidants

Check out our full range of ampoules and serums, and see how you can benefit from the power of antioxidants in your skincare routine.

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References and sources:

Starr, JM., Starr, RJ. Skin Aging and Oxidative Stress. In Aging: Oxidative Stress and Dietary Antioxidants, 2014 Academic Press.
Poljšak, B., Dahmane, R. Free Radicals and Extrinsic Skin Aging. In Dermatology Research and Practice, Hindawi Publishing Corporation, Vol. 2012, Article ID 135206.
Pai, VV., Skukla, P., Kikkeri, NN. Antioxidants in dermatology. In Indian Dermatology Online Journal. 2014 Apr-Jun; 5(2): 210–214.
Pullar, JM., Carr, AC., Vissers, MCM. The Roles of Vitamin C in Skin Health. In Nutrients, 2017 Aug; 9(8): 866.
Bissett, DL. PhD, Oblong, JE. PhD, Cynthia, A., Berge, BS. Niacinamide: A B Vitamin that Improves Aging Facial Skin Appearance. In Dermatologic Surgery, (2005) Vol. 31, Issue S1 (860-866).
Fischer TW, Elsner P. The antioxidative potential of melatonin in the skin. In Current Problems in Dermatology 29:165-174
Nichols, JA., Katiyar, SK. Skin photoprotection by natural polyphenols: Anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant and DNA repair mechanisms. In Arch Dermatol Res. 2010 Mar; 302(2); 71.

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