If you thought Free Radicals was the name of a band, then it’s high time to get acquainted with antioxidants and hunt down the most powerful that you can. When it comes to anti-aging beauty routines, antioxidants are potent preventers and repairers. Find out how they work and the best antioxidant serums (and more!) that I have come across.
Let’s start with the Free Radical Theory of Aging. The idea that free radicals contribute to aging was first posited in the 1950s, and since then, this theory has been refined and better understood. So, what are they and how do they contribute to our aging?
Free radicals are molecules produced when your body breaks down food, or by environmental exposures like tobacco smoke and radiation. Free radicals can damage cells and play a role in degenerative diseases. They go about this by attacking the nearest stable molecule, “stealing” its electron. This causes the attacked molecule to become a free radical itself, beginning a chain reaction. It is generally accepted these days that free radicals form in the mitochondria (which are sometimes described as “cellular power plants”) where they wreak havoc on lipids, proteins and mitochondrial DNA, contributing to the aging process.
So, this is where antioxidants come in. Antioxidants are molecules that can safely interact with free radicals and terminate the chain reaction before vital molecules are damaged. Antioxidants essentially act as electron donors, replacing those stolen by free radicals. There is growing evidence that antioxidant supplements may do more harm than good, but antioxidant-rich foods (basically fruit, vegetables and legumes) along with regular exercise help prevent free-radical damage (source). Topical antioxidants have been shown by research to mitigate the effects of UV-induced free-radical damage, making them an important sunscreen booster.
So, what should you look out for in an effective antioxidant serum? The most common antioxidants are vitamin C and E. However, there is a growing understanding the antioxidants work better in combination (source). Thus C and E are better together, while E on its own can cause skin irritation. And there are many more out there, including some of the most potent: Coenzyme Q10, lycopene, astaxanthin, green tea polyphenols, silymarin found in milk thistle, resveratrol, pomegranate, pycogenol and genistein.
Here are some of the best antioxidant formulas to check out:
Medik8 Firewall ($145 in the shop). There are lots of skin-repairing copper peptides in this firming serum and an especially interesting ingredient is N-acetyl cysteine. Cysteine also helps synthesize glutathione, one of the body’s most important natural antioxidants and detoxifiers. Also on the of-high-interest list is Liprochroman-6,(see Your Best Face below for more). The antioxidant roster continues with superoxide dismutase, copper glycinate, tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate and L-ergothioneine (the really potent component in green tea).Read the full review.
Your Best Face Antioxidants Concentrate ($65 in the shop) is a wonderful blend of heavy-hitting antioxidants, including ferulic acid (more powerful antioxidant than vitamin C that can seek and destroy several different types of free radicals), resveratrol and glutathione (considered by some to be the mother of antioxidants), as well as the free-radical scavengers spin trap and Lipochroman 6. Spin trap is rather clever as it stabilizes free-radical molecules without destroying them and thereby effectively prevents damage. Read the full review.
Shielo Antioxidant Leave In Protectant ($18). This leave-in hair conditioner has white tea, apple, soy and cysteine, an amino acid that helps form the antioxidant glutathione. Plus, there is immune-system-boosting golden seal and peptides. Read the full review.
M.A.D Skincare Mega Rich Antioxidant Cleansing Gel ($32). The formulation is certainly mega-rich in antioxidants, starting with M.A.D. Skincare’s TriniTea Complex, a blend of white, red, and green tea. Plus there’s the antioxidant powerhouse, cranberry, as well as apple. Read the full review.
Suntegrity Natural Moisturizing Face Sunscreen & Primer, Broad Spectrum SPF 30 ($45 in the shop). Scientists believe that by adding antioxidants to sunscreens, they could offer a second, “active” level of protection. So it’s good to know that Suntegrity makes sure that there is a hefty antioxidant boost from astaxanthin, red algae, cucumber, green tea and pomegranate. Read the full review.
Your Best Face Private Reserve Antioxidant Oil ($75 in the shop). In this less-is-more formula, the two antioxidant ingredients come in potent concentrations. They are spin trap and Lipochroman-6, and they are signature Your Best Face. And because the beauty of oil-based formulas is that you can keep them pared back to essentials, these two radical scavengers steal the show. Read the full review.
Red Flower Kinmoxei Wild Lime Silk Oil ($48 in the shop) is ideal for leaving skin hydrated and glowing, smoothing frizz and flyaways, nourishing nails and even lightening age spots! With a formula of 12 different oils, there are antioxidants, pore reducers and skin brighteners. Worth a call out is kinmoxei, a flower from a tree growing in southern Japan. The petals are blended with rice bran and monoi oils to enhance the moisturizing effects. Read the full review.
Snowberry Starbright Moisturizer ($51). Snowberry's lightweight forumula is rich in natural antioxidants. Its mostly indigenous botanical ingredients include three superfruits — cupuaçu, cranberry and lingonberry — that have anti-inflammatory and emollient properties. Other noteworthy ingredients include macadamia oil and tomato and rosemary extracts, and totara, a native New Zealand tree that has skin whitening properties. Read the full review.
Stemulation Boost Crème ($75) has many natural ingredients and niacinamide is rounded out with oat-derived beta glucan (known to stimulate immune defense, fibroblast growth, and collagen synthesis) and lactic acid (which exfoliates to increase cellular turnover and improve skin texture and tone). Read the full review with before and after pictures.
La Vie Céleste Éclairage Restorative Serum ($98.50 in the shop). Skin brighteners in Eclairage are alpha arbutin, a tyrosinase blocker, and bearberry leaf extract, which is a source of arbutin and has properties that can protect the skin from sunlight, and B-White, a combination of amino acids derived from a growth factor (TGF-b). The result is a peptide called oligopeptide-68. The peptide binds to the TGF-b receptor in skin cells to inhibit the enzymes involved in skin pigmentation. Tetrahydrocurcumin, derived from the Indian spice turmeric, also has skin-lightening abilities, as well as being a powerful antioxidant. Read the full review.
Sweetsation I*Light Organic Advanced Brightening & Line Smoothing Eye Treatment ($27). Sweetsation is big on cocoa butter and you'll find it in most of the products in the line. This eye cream has tons of natural extracts including tamanu oil, blueberry, cranberry, raspberry and far too many more to call out. More successful on fine lines than dark circles, Sweetsation nonetheless ensures an excellent quality to price ratio. Read the full review.
Kat Burki Hibiscus Antioxidant Face Mask ($78). A once or twice a week face mask that will brighten the complexion as well as deliver anti-antioxidants is a must. Kat Burki Hibiscus Antioxidant Face Mask was the winner of the Truth In Aging Best New Product Launch of 2013. Hibiscus is a natural exfoliant and it joins glycolic and lactic acids to polish the skin. A fabulous cast of ingredients includes cayenne pepper, periwinkle and Oregon grape. Read the full review.
Truth Renew Ultrasonic & LED Anti-Aging System ($109), Facial Secret ($330) or Baby Quasar Plus ($399). LED light is a powerful antioxidant over time. Most of the science seems to agree that light therapy increases production of ATP (the energy engine of cells) and the modulation of reactive oxygen species and that “these effects in turn lead to increased cell proliferation and migration (particularly by fibroblasts), modulation in levels of cytokines, growth factors and inflammatory mediators, and increased tissue oxygenation.” However, the short-term effects are pro-oxidative, so — as Chinese researchers found — it is best to use antioxidant serum with your LED sessions. Good thing that there are a few here to choose from. Read more on how LED works.