Are we pro or anti...antioxidants in skincare?

'Antioxidant' is a buzz word you hear thrown around the health and skincare industry all the time. But are they actually important and do they actually do anything for your skin? We asked the Dermatology Institute of Victoria's Assoc Prof Greg Goodman to give his opinion on whether we should be pro or anti this category of skincare?   

"In order to understand antioxidants and their function in the skin we need to begin with a little science lesson,"  explains Greg. 


The technical version 

Everything we encounter is attempting to do us damage and in what is perhaps a bit of an oxymoron the very elements that keep us alive are also ageing us.The sun with its ultraviolet light and even the air we breathe with its oxygen and pollution all act to literally burn us up with toxic by-products. So what are these by-products? Probably the most important and nastiest are Reactive Oxygen Species or ROS which are so nasty that we actually use them to kill invading organisms. ROS's also contribute to inflammation which destroys tissues and sometimes other parts of ourselves. These ROS's are really a family of nasties. They form as a natural by-product of the normal metabolism of oxygen and include hydroxyl radicals, superoxides, free radicals and peroxides.

"Even their names sound scary."

These molecules are highly reactive and look to neutralise their activity by taking an electron from anywhere they can find one. Unfortunately this is often the structure of the cell wall, which may lead to the death of that cell or the cell’s DNA (our genetic code) causing faulty cell function and division.

So how do we stop ROS damage? 

Our defence against all this destruction are a group of special agents called antioxidants whose role it is to neutralise these radical oxygen molecules and to do so safely. Many antioxidants are plant based and for them to reach our skin we must either eat a lot of them or physically apply them. 

The simple version 

The simplest example of the effects of antioxidants is the humble apple, which when cut, turns brown. The fruit when exposed to oxygen, oxidises phenolic compounds which shows as a change in colour, however the application of lemon juice from a ripe lemon will stop this oxidation as it supplies the apple with necessary antioxidants, which in this case is mainly vitamin C. 



What do antioxidants do for the appearance of our skin? 

So basically what happens to the apple with the lemon happens to your skin when a topical antioxidant is applied. Antioxidants are:

  1. anti-inflammatory
  2. cancer fighting
  3. protect against the sun (both UVA and UVB) 
  4. aid in fighting skin infection
  5. help regulate our immune responses
  6. improve blood flow
  7. may increase collagen production improving skin texture and fine wrinkles.




Medik8 Firewall is one of our favourite antioxidant products because it is high potency, is stable and is a broad spectrum antioxidant. At the Dermatology Institute of Victoria we have more than 10 medical grade skincare products that contain stable antioxidants. Find out which antioxidant is best for your skin by booking a free skin care consultation with Alani Fowler.

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