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What are Anti-oxidants?

You hear of these multi-talented, incredibly gifted, villain fighting superheroes in almost everything you read these days. Anti-oxidants (AOs) rule the skincare, supplement and food industry. What are the truths behind these almost supernatural substances? Simply put, AOs are substances that protect the cell from reactive oxygen species (ROS). In other words, they prevent your cells from dying off. They act by either adding or removing electrons to stabilize free radicals. Therefore, they have become popularly known as free radical scavengers. Hopefully I might have tickled your curiosity by now, so without further ado, let’s charge forward and take the plunge.

What are Free-radicals?

Let’s think of it as an oxygen molecule gone rogue. Oxygen likes to be paired, but if for some reason it becomes attached to other molecules that result in odd numbers of unpaired electrons, it becomes unstable, reactive and highly dangerous. Hence the term, reactive oxygen species (ROS) or free radicals.


ROS are literally the villains of our action-packed non-fictional informational narrative and will not hesitate to destroy anything in their path.


Few examples of these miniscule time bombs are hydrogen peroxide, superoxide, hydroxyl anion, singlet oxygen.

How does a stable oxygen molecule go rogue?


It’s interesting you ask, for I have the answer that might make life simpler. But beware, this article will pertain to the role of AOs in skincare only, as the topic is an exhaustive one and I sincerely want to spare you the agony of reading 100 plus pages of biochemistry!


Here are some common reasons why stable oxygen molecules can attain a flammable status:

  • Natural processes through normal human metabolism and natural aging.
  • Ingestion of, or exposure to heavy metals like iron, lead or mercury.
  • Nicotine consumption, cigarette smoking
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Excessive strenuous exercise beyond recommended levels.
  • Air and environmental pollution
  • Chronic ill health
  • Metabolism of drugs
  • Illegal drug consumption or drug abuse
  • Radiation exposure
  • Ultraviolet solar radiation
  • Nutrient deficient junk diets
  • Extreme dieting or excessive eating
  • High levels of stress
  • Certain autoimmune diseases
  • Cancer

How does our body cope with ROS?

Is it a bird, is it a plane, no it’s AO! The body reacts by naturally producing protective substances known as anti-oxidants. AOs scoop up and scavenge ROS, detoxifying, healing and normalizing cellular functions. They revive and revitalize your cells and put them back on track. I like to think of them as cell resuscitators. Yes, you heard me right; we have an innate inbuilt defense mechanism that releases a good dose of natural AOs whenever our cells are attacked. AOs are strategically dispersed mainly in the outer layers of the skin (epidermis) as compared to the deeper (dermis) layers of the skin.

Our innate medicine cabinet of AOs include

  • Superoxide dismutase
  • Ubiquinone
  • Glutathione (GHS)
  • Ascorbic acid fondly known as Vitamin C
  • α- tocopherol known as Vitamin E isoforms
  • Carotenoids and sulphydrils
  • β-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin, and alpha-carotene.

What happens when these natural AOs are not enough?

Unfortunately the skin is being bombarded from all angles. Internal processes along with constant exposure to UVA, pollution, chemicals, and general wear and tear take a toll on our skin, eventually resulting in an AO depleted state. Exceeding doses of these triggering factors will cause a negative balance of natural AOs. What this means is that our body cannot cope with the constant onslaught of damaging events. The AO repairing capacity is compromised and the resulting ROS will run rampant and start attacking the DNA of the skin cells. Continual exposure to negative influences will result in the processes of cell mutation, cell death and tumor cell formation. Bad news indeed.

So what now?

This is where the beauty of science steps in to save the day. Numerous studies are looking into novel and new anti-oxidant development technology that can potentially serve as topical replenishments to the falling levels of AOs in our skin. It goes without saying that eating a nutrient rich diet is one of the best methods of receiving AOs internally, but wouldn’t it be great if we could get a rich dose of AOs through our diet complimented by topical applications of key AOs?


Few studies indicate that well formulated topicals can potentially raise the levels of AOs within our skin. Efficacy will depend on many factors such as absorption, molecular form of the compound, pH level of skin, condition of the barrier, the carriers of the actives (substances or vehicles responsible for delivering the AOs to the target tissue intact), whether the actives are fat or water soluble. Therefore, multiple factors are at play when one starts formulating an AO containing topical that will result in optimal benefits by reaching the target tissues before being degraded during transit.

How do I know which serum or cream containing AOs is the best?

As efficacy of topical treatment with AOs remains largely unknown, you must rely on personal research. Review the credibility of the brand by asking your dermatologist or skincare professional. They will recommend the best and most trusted brands out there and often, they will offer in-office treatments such as Vitamin C iontophoresis and mesotherapy whereby AOs can be introduced into the deeper layers of the skin.

The X-Men Super Pack

A term known as ‘network anti-oxidants’ holds special significance in the skincare industry. Although there are thousands of AOs in nature, few are capable of working synergistically when combined. When one falls, the other takes over, and that is how they maintain the critical network of disarming ROS. Here are the elite X-Men super pack of AOs at this point in time:

  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin E
  • Glutathione
  • Lipoic acid
  • Coenzyme CoQ10

Achilles effect

The issue with many topical AOs is their sensitivity to light and air, and lack of a reliable delivery system to the target tissue. These superheroes have an Achilles-like vulnerability. They are very sensitive to UVL and start degrading within a few days of opening the bottle, this is mostly the case with Vitamin C, however more stable forms of Vitamin C have been developed and may last longer than ascorbyl palmitate formulations. Science is constantly striving to harness and preserve precious AOS, so that consumers can derive maximum benefit.


Your best bet will be to stay on the lookout for a trusted brand, one that has put in years of R&D into developing formulations that are stable, in optimal concentrations, and are able to reach the target tissue in order to demonstrate real time benefit.


Try out combinations of professionally administered treatments, topical treatments, an AO rich diet and avoid ROS releasing triggers.


I believe in a global approach to maintaining natural AO levels in your body by using all the above techniques. A multi-prong approach will definitely yield positive results over time.

Let us try and enable our innate AO system first.

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