We hear about free radicals quite regularly now, but do most of you really understand what they are and the effects they have on our skin? In a nutshell, free radicals are something to be very aware of; not only do they damage our skin, but free radicals can even accelerate its aging process.
Free Radicals – Scientist’s Definition
Free radicals are unstable molecules with unpaired electrons that must return to a stable state by giving away an electron to another molecule (reduction reaction), or by taking an electron from another molecule (oxidation reaction). They react with enzymes, sugars, amino acids, DNA, membrane phospholipids, collagen, etc. to damage and destroy essential skin components. Free radicals can disrupt a cell’s ability to function properly via multiple pathways, resulting in permanent damage, which expresses itself as aging!
Free radicals are everywhere – pollution, cigarette smoke, ozone and stress, just to name a few. Even our body’s metabolic production produces them! What’s even worse is that the biggest source of free radicals is the oxygen molecule; in other words, the air that surrounds us is producing an abundance of free radicals and causing us to age!
Free radicals are naturally and continuously formed in the body as a result of internal and external oxidative stress. Two perfect examples of oxidative stress are a cut apple turning brown and rust forming on metal after being exposed to the air – this is due to free radicals that surround us everyday, everywhere.
Free radicals are on a mission to destroy anything in their paths, including vital parts of the skin, such as lipids (i.e., essential fatty acids) and protein (i.e., collagen and elastin) and even DNA! Once a free radical is formed it is similar to a “small fire” that begins to grow. These “small fires” can cause serious damage to cells, tissues, and even organs, eventually leading to premature aging and disease. Free radicals will “attack and snatch” energy from other cells to satisfy themselves, causing an imbalance which subsequently leads to more damage.
The body’s natural defense systems decrease with age, and the level of oxidative damage increases from 10 to 40% as cellular repair mechanisms begin to fail. Excessive formation of free radicals can’t be handled by the body’s own defenses and the result is accelerated aging.
So how do we protect ourselves from these destructive free radicals? Stay tuned!