How Free Radicals Harm Your Skin And How To Counteract Them

If you’ve accomplished any analysis into skincare suggestions and merchandise, you might have encountered the time period “free radicals.” Dermatologists typically speak about “free radical damage,” however don’t all the time outline what which means. It additionally comes up as one thing that may play a job within the growth of most cancers and different well being points.

Admittedly the time period “free radicals” appears like a countercultural group from the Sixties, however that clarification wouldn’t clarify their function in dermatology.

So what precisely are free radicals? Below, dermatologists break down what you have to learn about them from a skincare perspective, their influence and the best way to finest cope with it.

What are free radicals?

“Free radicals, also referred to as reactive oxygen species, refer to an unstable molecule that is formed when chemical changes take place in a normal cell,” Dr. Marisa Garshick, a board-certified dermatologist in New York and New Jersey, advised HuffPost.

Specifically, she famous that these molecules have an unpaired electron, which makes them unstable and extremely reactive.

“Without a partner to stabilize it, the solo electron has the ability to interact with other molecules through a process called oxidation, which can damage cells and the DNA contained within them,” mentioned Dr. Gloria Lin, a board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York.

A variety of components can contribute to the buildup of free radicals, stemming from each inner physiologic reactions and exterior pollution.

“Free radicals can come from natural biological processes from the body’s metabolism but often are from other outside sources that we are exposed to on a daily basis, like sun exposure, smoking, pollution and toxins,” Lin mentioned. “Specifically, UV radiation from the sun causes free radicals and may contribute as much as 80% to skin damage.”

What do free radicals do?

“To understand what free radicals do, remember that these are molecules that have an extra electron, called an unpaired electron, which makes them unstable,” mentioned Dr. Blair Murphy-Rose, a board-certified dermatologist and medical teacher of dermatology at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York. “This instability leads free radicals to steal an electron, thus disrupting something stable. That something causes cellular damage and DNA damage.”

Unless they’re neutralized, free radicals can construct up and wreak havoc.

“Free radicals target macromolecules like DNA, lipids, cell membranes, proteins and more and lead to cellular damage,” Garshick mentioned.

The phenomenon is named oxidative stress.

“Typically, our body’s own antioxidant defense system and certain foods that we eat ― vitamins A, C and E ― can help counteract the harmful free radicals,” Lin defined. “However, if there is an imbalance and these molecules outpace our body’s ability to neutralize these, then the stress can lead to cell damage and death. As we age, the natural defense system of the body is not as effective. The damaged DNA can be repaired by our body, but if not completed in time, then this gets passed on and can lead to potential progression to skin cancer in the future.”

In addition to elevated pores and skin most cancers threat, there are additionally aesthetic results on the pores and skin with untimely indicators of getting older.

“Free radical damage can contribute to changes in the skin including loss of collagen, leading to increased skin laxity, fine lines and wrinkles, as well as discoloration and hyperpigmentation,” Garshick mentioned. “It can also contribute to dullness and inflammation leading to worsening acne and rosacea.”

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There are way of life adjustments you may make to stave off the damaging results of free radicals.

How are you able to counter free radical harm?

“Since sun exposure is a major cause of free radicals, prevention and reaction to UV radiation can decrease signs of skin damage,” Lin mentioned.

Regularly put on sunscreen and keep away from extended intervals of publicity to the solar. Today, many sunscreens comprise antioxidants ― one other key technique for mitigating free radical harm.

“Antioxidants also have an unpaired electron, but they preferentially take an unpaired electron from a free radical ― thereby stabilizing the free radical and preventing the damage it would otherwise cause,” Murphy Rose defined.

You ought to take a twofold method to antioxidants with each topical and dietary choices.

“First and foremost take a multivitamin with antioxidants,” beneficial Dr. Karan Lal, a board-certified dermatologist with Affiliated Dermatology in Arizona. “This will help supplement your diet with minerals that aid in a number of repair processes. Eat lots of colorful fruits and vegetables as they serve as a great natural reservoir for antioxidants.”

Blueberries, artichokes and kale are among the many antioxidant-rich meals you’ll be able to incorporate into your food regimen.

“Topical application can help neutralize the free radicals you may be coming in contact with,” Lal added. “Look for antioxidants like vitamin C, E, zinc, copper, selenium and various botanicals. Regular use of topical and oral antioxidants can help prevent the damage from the environment and from aging.”

For instance, take into account making use of a vitamin C serum to your face and neck earlier than your moisturizer and sunscreen. While Lin endorsed manufacturers like Skinceuticals, La Roche Posay, and Paula’s Choice, Garshick beneficial a couple of particular antioxidant-rich skincare merchandise, together with Vichy Mineral 89 Prebiotic Recovery and Defense Concentrate, Revision Skincare Intellishade TruPhysical, and Charlotte Tilbury Invisible UV Flawless Primer SPF 50.

“Using antioxidant products in the morning can help reduce the impact of free radicals that are generated throughout the day,” famous Dr. Brendan Camp, a board-certified dermatologist and medical assistant professor of dermatology at Weill Cornell Medical College.. “Using reparative ingredients at night, like niacinamide and hyaluronic acid, can help the skin recover from the preceding days stresses.”

Niacinamide is a type of vitamin B3 that’s present in topical merchandise and as an oral vitamin. Foods like meat, poultry, fish and brown rice additionally comprise this vitamin.

“Niacinamide can help to reduce the photoaging caused by the free radicals,” Lin mentioned. “There was actually a study that showed that taking niacinamide 500 mg twice daily can be helpful to decrease pre-cancers and non-melanoma skin cancers by up to 25%.”

Other anti-aging substances, merchandise and procedures can even assist counter free radical harm.

“For example, using a retinoid can help to boost collagen production to improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles,” Garshick mentioned. “Using certain exfoliating acids, such as glycolic acid, may help to brighten the skin.”

Looking for merchandise with niacinamide? Check out the dermatologist-recommended picks beneath.

HuffPost could obtain a share from purchases made through hyperlinks on this web page. Every merchandise is independently chosen by the HuffPost Shopping staff. Prices and availability are topic to alter.


CeraVe AM Facial Moisturizing Lotion with SPF 30

“It’s oil-free and has non-comedogenic sources of moisture and skin barrier support from hyaluronic acid, ceramides and niacinamide,” mentioned Dr. Deanne Mraz Robinson, a dermatologist and assistant medical professor of dermatology at Yale New Haven Hospital.


PCA Skin Vitamin B3 brightening serum

“A great product for brightening, specifically,” mentioned dermatologist Dr. Dhaval Bhanusali.


Alastin Restorative Skin Complex

“It contains a mix of potent antioxidants, which includes niacinamide,” Robinson mentioned. “This product is fantastic for encouraging collagen synthesis in the skin, while supporting the skin’s barrier and softening pigmentary concerns.”


Alpyn Beauty wild nettle and niacinamide firming serum

This silky serum will get a lift from niacinamide to scale back the looks of pores, hydrate pores and skin and nourish deep down.

The Ordinary

The Ordinary niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%

Dermatologist Dr. Janiene Luke recommends this as an inexpensive possibility.

Vlad Skibunov

The Inkey List niacinamide oil management serum

Another of Luke’s inexpensive recommendations.


EltaMD Barrier Renewal Complex and EltaMD UV clear broad-spectrum SPF 46

Luke beneficial two EltaMD merchandise particularly — the sunscreen and the Barrier Renewal Complex. It’s necessary that you simply apply the layer of moisture earlier than making use of the sunscreen, particularly when you have dry pores and skin.

Paula’s Choice

Paula’s Choice 10% niacinamide booster

The gentler of the model’s two choices, this 10% focus is lauded for its skill to restore enlarged pores, shrinking them again right down to their regular form and measurement, defined Desiree Stordahl, senior analysis and schooling supervisor at Paula’s Choice. She added, “I’d also recommend it for anyone who feels like their complexion has become dull — it makes a stunning impact in reviving skin’s healthy glow.”

Paula’s Choice

Paula’s Choice niacinamide 20% remedy

Looking for the next focus than 10%? This product is beneficial “for anybody with stretched, enlarged pores, typically described as ‘orange peel texture,'” Bhanusali suggested. “This high concentration of niacinamide can help with post-acne lesions, but check tolerability first.”

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