A member of the Truth In Aging community asked me a great question the other day: What are the best antioxidants for preventing sun damage? I promised do my research and write an article with recommended antioxidants for environmental protection. In reading around and going back to some TIA favorites, it struck me that a guide to antioxidants with the different benefits was long overdue.
Oxidation is what happens when a chemical reaction in food, plants or our bodies sets off free radicals, which in turn can cause cell damage. They go about this by attacking the nearest stable molecule and basically “stealing” its electron. 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.
Antioxidants — to some extent — can inhibit this process. To balance the oxidative state, plants and animals maintain complex systems of overlapping antioxidants that reinforce the prevention of free radicals but also have different roles. In addition, many promote cellular regeneration to help reverse any damage that’s already done. Keep scrolling to learn more about different types of age-defying antioxidants, whose benefits, by the way, go far beyond keeping sun spots at bay.
Antioxidants that prevent UV damage
Melatonin is associated with our circadian rhythms and sleep patterns, and it is often overlooked as an important antioxidant. Studies have shown melatonin’s ability to counteract the harmful effect of UV rays by suppressing oxidative damage. It also protects keratinocytes against cell death while stimulating the growth of fibroblasts.
Ferulic acid greatly enhances the antioxidant power of vitamin C and vitamin E to protect against the sun’s damaging rays. You’ll find it in many of our recommended products, including Your Best Face Antioxidants Concentrate ($65 in the shop).
Carotenoids are amongst the most helpful family of antioxidants when it comes to protecting the skin. They include lutein, zeaxanthin and lycopene, which can be found in tomatoes. In nature, carotenoids absorb excess light energy to prevent plants from incurring damage from too much sunlight. Fun fact: Studies have shown that eating tomatoes can reduce sunburn by 30 percent.
Astaxanthin, also classified as a carotenoid, is considered one of the most powerful antioxidants discovered. Evidence shows it to be 6000 times more powerful than vitamin C. It has incredible UV-blocking properties and can neutralize multiple free radicals at once. That’s why you’ll find it in some of the more thoughtful sunscreen formulas, like Ao Skincare Protect ($59.95 in the shop).
Antioxidants that promote collagen production
Vitamin C is the only antioxidant that boosts the production of collagen. In fact, as a precursor to collagen, vitamin C is essential and this is what makes it one of the most important anti-agers. Look for stable synthetic forms like l-ascorbic acid and ascorbyl palmitate in skin care (I like Dr. Dennis Gross C + Collgen Brighten & Firm Serum, $78 in the shop). Or, find it in naturally-occurring sources like citrus, berries and plums.
Antioxidants that detoxify
Glutathione (pronounced glute-a-thigh-on) is a peptide and antioxidant that does all sorts of important things — detoxification, antioxidant defense, maintenance of thiol status (a molecule in our blood) and modulation of cell proliferation. The detoxification part happens due to sulfur compounds. Toxins stick to it. Glutathione gets rid of our bodies’ nasties by also participating directly in the neutralization of free radicals and reactive oxygen compounds. Find it in Medik8 CE Thione Rechargeable Vitamin C Serum ($150 in the shop).
One of the body’s most powerful antioxidant enzymes is superoxide dismutase. It plays an important role in breaking down destructive oxygen molecules in cells and detoxifying potentially harmful substances. Try Medik8 Firewall ($145 in the shop).
Antioxidants that protect mitochondria
Mitochondria are the energy source in our cells. Antioxidants that reside in the cells and take care of mitochondria levels include ubiquinone, the oxidized form of Coenzyme Q10. One study showed it has a strong impact on gene expression and a significant decelerating effect on aging problems in middle-aged mice. Ubiquinone can be found in Expurtise Effective Anti-Aging Face Treatment ($90 in the shop).
Antioxidants that increase ATP
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. 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.
Antioxidants that boost other antioxidants
Some antioxidants don’t just go around preventing free radical damage, they selflessly boost the performance of other antioxidants. One such is alpha lipoic acid, also known as thioctic acid. When vitamin E quenches lipid peroxidation, and a vitamin E radical is formed, alpha lipoic acid will reduce it back to the active state of vitamin E. It does the same thing for vitamin C and boosts glutathione (mentioned above) levels in cells. A good source: Prana Vitamin Lift Serum ($75 in the shop).