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Antioxidants, Free Radicals and Skin Care

Posted: October 15, 2013
<em>The Youth Corridor: Your Guide to Timeless Beauty</em>

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Vitamin C has also been shown to be a powerful antioxidant when applied to the skin. This is where real progress is being made. Free radicals derived from metabolic processes interfere with the production and maintenance of collagen in the skin. When collagen fibers are inadequate in number or misaligned, the skin structure breaks down and loss of elasticity and wrinkling result. Vitamin C protects the collagen in the skin and is necessary for new collagen production and wound healing. Free radicals from the environment have also been said to enter the skin and cause tissue damage, though how this happens is a mystery to me. The function of the skin is to keep the outside environment outside. That's how it works. And the difficulty in getting topical vitamin C into the skin illustrates that fact. But mechanisms aside, vitamin C applied to the skin can work if it can get into the skin in sufficient quantities. We will deal with this issue in depth a bit later in the text.

Vitamin E

Along with the knowledge of the destructive capability of free radicals is the knowledge that they are products of normal metabolism and are neutralized by antioxidants. These antioxidants are either enzymes within the body systems or antioxidants derived from the diet. The diet-derived group includes vitamin E (tocopherol), vitamin C (ascorbic acid), carotenes (vitamin A), and many others. Vitamins C and E are among the major nonenzymatic antioxidants that protect skin from the adverse effects of aging and sun damage, and for this purpose, topical application seems far more effective than oral supplements. We don't yet know how much is optimal for this function, but we are discovering how to most effectively deliver it to the skin. The fat-soluble vitamin E molecule is too large to penetrate the skin and significantly raise circulating levels, but application of vitamin E to the skin has consistently shown the ability to retard the inflammation from sun exposure and UVB damage and, in fact, reverse the sun damage. There is also a great deal of evidence that vitamins C and E are enhanced in their antioxidant function when applied together. Current conservative advice is that a diet rich in fruit and vegetables should be adequate for normal healthy adults. Daily oral supplements of vitamin E have long been recommended but have fallen into scientific disfavor due to conflicting reports. Some studies claim it promotes cardiac health; others contradict the findings. A 2009 study indicated that most basic studies were universally flawed and suggested that larger (and perhaps larger than tolerated) doses might be necessary to be effective. I no longer encourage taking vitamin E supplements until more information is available. The effect of vitamin E on the skin is another matter. All evidence indicates that it is an important element for maintaining youthful, healthy skin and preventing and reversing sun damage.

Topical antioxidants like vitamins C and E are potent tools for reversing sun damage to the skin. No one doubts their value; the issue is getting the large molecules through the skin, and a great deal of progress has been made on this front. Effective vitamin C serums are available, and they work. But delivering enough of the antioxidant remains a problem; measuring its effectiveness objectively is another. A relatively unexploited but easily documented property of topical antioxidants is their ability to prevent redness from sun exposure. Both vitamins C and E reduce the red inflammatory reaction from the sun when applied half an hour before exposure. This can be documented and crudely quantified, so we have a way of measuring results and comparing them. When C and E are applied together the effect is cumulative, in other words, more effective than either alone. When another antioxidant, melatonin, is added to C and E, the protective effect is many times greater than using C or E alone, or C and E in combination. Apparently, the addition of melatonin eases the entry of the antioxidants into the skin. This breakthrough has made the topical delivery of antioxidants into the skin a more effective reality. The unique quality of the combined antioxidants has been known for a number of years. Whether the reduced inflammatory response translates to fewer skin cancers is not yet clear. What is known is that vitamins C and E, combined with melatonin, drive antioxidants into the skin, and these same antioxidants have been shown to protect the skin from the inflammatory response to the sun and help reverse previous sun damage to the skin.

I think this represents great progress, and a serum containing potent levels of vitamins C and E and melatonin is now an important component of the Youth Corridor program.


Melatonin is produced by the pineal gland in the brain and is known to influence the circadian rhythms of the body: sleeping at night, being awake during the day. It has also been recognized as among the most powerful of antioxidants. The ability of melatonin to eliminate free-radical contamination in cellular function has been repeatedly demonstrated. And as noted above, it is very effective as a topical antioxidant in its synergetic action with vitamins C and E. The ability of melatonin to help drive vitamin C into the skin and its anti-inflammatory action have made it a very important ingredient in skin-care products. I believe the combination of vitamin C, vitamin E and melatonin represents the most truly effective way to get enough of these antioxidants into the skin to impede collagen destruction, encourage collagen production, reduce facial wrinkles and undo sun damage.

Natural antioxidants and antioxidant supplements

There are many antioxidant supplements available. Most of these compounds have beneficial properties in their natural state, which should not be overlooked. But the question is whether antioxidant supplements actually provide the help they promise. Systemic antioxidants are necessary to prevent the oxidation of LDL (bad) cholesterol, which then becomes layered into artery walls as life-threatening plaque. As recently as June 2009, the American Heart Association declined to underwrite the use of antioxidant supplements for this purpose. It concluded there is not enough evidence that vitamins C or E or beta-carotene supplements are of any benefit, though it encouraged the dietary intake of foods high in antioxidants in the natural state. Foods such as citrus fruits, carrots and pomegranates are high on the long list of healthy sources. Green tea is a great source of the powerful antioxidant group called catechins. Catechins have been credited with improving cardiac health, among other benefits, and many experts encourage consuming multiple cups of green tea daily. Numerous studies show the benefit of these catechins in boosting immune response and protecting against cancer. Green tea extract applied to the skin is active in protecting against skin cancers caused by UVB rays, the most dangerous wavelength in sunlight. There appears to be enormous value in consumption of green tea and its use in skin care preparations.

Decaffeinated tea retains its antioxidant value as well, so you can drink your antioxidant all day, buzz-free. Apparently, green tea is not baked in the production process and maintains more of its active catechins than other types of teas. Green tea has no calories, and though it is admittedly an acquired taste, once you get into it, it tastes great. Over the long haul, it may stain teeth slightly, as does coffee; but the simple expedient of brushing a few times daily seems to neutralize the problem.