The Important Beauty Term You Never Understood And What It Actually Means


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You’d think with a name like ‘free radicals’ we’d be dealing with something epically cool for your skin – some super-powered chemical that freezes time and erases decades of skin damage. Sadly, that’s not the case. If you’re reading about free radicals and skincare in the same sentence, know that it’s the archenemy of supple, youthful-looking skin, and the reason why we’re always going on about the importance of antioxidants! Understanding free radicals might be the most important thing you do today…

What you need to know about free radicals:

Essentially, free radicals corrupt healthy cells. The more we’re exposed to them, the faster our skin ages and the older we look. What’s worse, this isn’t just superficial aging – like a couple of small smile lines here and there – free radicals are changing the composition of your skin on a molecular level, like effecting your cell membranes, damaging proteins, altering DNA, and even triggering diseases. Cardiovascular and inflammatory disease, cataracts, and even cancer can all be caused by the impact free radicals have on your cells.

How free radicals damage your skin:

Free radicals are basically unstable molecules that have an unpaired electron (in an ideal world, they’re all part of a pair), because they’re unpaired they’re looking to balance themselves out. To achieve balance, free radicals steal an electron from healthy cells, however, this just upsets the healthy cell, turning it into a free radical as well. This simply kick starts a chain reaction that trickles down entire molecular chains like a pack of dominoes.

Free radicals are most lethal when they react with important cellular components like DNA, collagen, or the cell membrane. When important proteins are denatured (taken out of their optimal state), genes can be broken and hazardous residual elements may result from the chemical changes, which can lead to disease.

how the human body fights free radicals with antioxidants

Antioxidants are the solution:

Ever seen people put lemon juice on avocados and apple slices? It stops them from going brown because citrus fruits – and a handful of other ingredients – are antioxidants (they stop the revealed fruit flesh from oxidizing). Antioxidants basically have plenty of electrons to share, so they donate one of their electrons to free radicals to stabilize the molecule, while still remaining stable themselves.

Although your body produces some antioxidants to counter free radical damage, getting extra from your skincare and diet is vital to support skin cells and stave off extra damage. The chief SWAT team for free radicals is vitamin E, beta-carotene, and vitamin C, which we all get from eating our fruits and veggies, or in beauty creams and serums.

How to fight free radicals:

No one is immune to the chaotic free radical process. We’d have to be 100% stress-free, live in an unpolluted environment, and slap on a thick lather of SPF 75 lotion every day. It’s just not possible.

Our ultimate tip? Start with your lifestyle. The most powerful antioxidants are not the ones you rub onto your skin, but the ones you ingest. When your doctor said getting your 5-a-day (5 fruit and 5 veg) was important, he really meant it! Blueberries, oranges, Goji berries, dark chocolate (oh yeah, you read right), kidney beans, cilantro, artichoke – these are just some of things you can eat to curb free radical production. To tackle free radicals on the surface, check out my DIY orange treatment (the easiest thing ever). Supplement your eating regime with natural skincare products – a touch of vitamin C serum here, a little grapeseed oil, a dash of antioxidant-rich night-cream there – and you’ve got yourself a great retaliatory plan for combatting free radicals.

Our fav products:

The Ordinary’s EUK 134 0.1%, $12.70, is like the ultimate formula for fighting against free radicals, and has “an exceptionally rare self-regenerating molecule that scavenges superoxide free radicals, eliminates hydrogen peroxide and converts reactive oxygen species into water and oxygen”. That’s good enough for us!

SkinCeuticals’ C E Ferulic Serum, $165, is not only an award-winning formula, but one of Huda’s essential products. Packed with antioxindants that fight free radicals, it also has a ton of other ingredients to enhance your skin and diminish the signs of aging.