When talking about skincare and anti-aging in general the term “free radicals” comes up in nearly every sentence. We hear about how free radicals invade our bodies, and cause damage, and how we need to fight them off. Free radicals, along with inflammation, are considered to be the primary causes of premature aging. Nearly all anti-aging skincare product lines and nutritional supplements are designed to combat them.

So what are free radicals exactly?

To properly explain it, I have to get a little scientific on you.

Electrons are negatively charged particles that orbit the nucleus of an atom. They are most stable when they are in pairs. Free radicals are unpaired (single) electrons that are highly unstable, easily excitable, and aggressive. When anything happens to energize or “excite” these single electrons, they steal an electron from a healthy pair in order to stabilize themselves, thus breaking up that pair and leaving that electron single and unstable. This is how mutation happens. This causes a chain reaction or domino effect; the process repeats over and over.

Why are they so dangerous?

dna_double_helix_45These free radicals, if not neutralized, damage DNA, causing cell mutation, and starting the inflammatory process. Here is an example in terms of aging: Cells that the body intended to be healthy pigmentation cells can manifest on the skin as hyperpigmentation (“sun spots” or “age spots”). Cells that were intended to produce healthy proteins like collagen or elastin, instead cause fine lines, wrinkles, or sagging skin. This speeds up the aging process.

Where do they come from?

Free radicals are created when anything foreign enters the body. This includes the sun’s UV rays, environmental pollutants, and toxic, impure, or irritant ingredients found in foods and skin/personal care products, etc. When the immune system is weakened due to illness or stress, more of these invaders are able to enter the body and create free radicals. The body must then focus on fighting them off, instead of on healing and producing new and healthy cells.

How can I stop them?

Avoiding the sun, practicing good nutritional habits, and reducing stress are crucial in preventing free radicals from attacking your body. Consuming antioxidants internally, via proper diet and supplements, as well as applying them topically via skin care products, is also a great way to protect yourself.

*Image 1 by Healthvalue (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Image 2 by Jerome Walker,Dennis Myts (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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