Damage Control: Why You (Really) Need Antioxidants

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At this point, the health benefits of red wine have been touted up and down the wellness aisles in every corner of the blogosphere. So forgive me for giving you yet another reason to pat yourself on the back for sticking by your favorite booze. Not a fan of red wine? Allow me to persuade you otherwise ‘cause it just might be the ticket to protecting your skin from sun damage.

Hear me out.

It's no secret that red wine is loaded with antioxidants and that those antioxidants are key players on your skin’s defense team. But how do they work and what, exactly, are they capable of? Read on for the nitty-gritty on how antioxidants are one of the best friends your skin could ask for, right up there with sunscreen (which you should definitely not skip, red wine or no red wine).

First, Science: Oxidation, Free Radicals & Antioxidants

An antioxidant is a molecule that inhibits the oxidation of other molecules. Which begs the questions, what is oxidation and why is it a problem? Reach way back in your memory bank to your middle school science lessons on electrons, those stable subatomic particles with a negative electric charge. Oxidation is the loss of electrons in a chemical reaction that produces unstable and highly reactive free radicals which can damage skin cells. Free radicals are common in all biological systems and can react with protein and unsaturated fatty acids, the building blocks of skin, causing breakage and oxidative damage.

For those who, like me, needed visual aids to get through science class: Think of iron reacting with oxygen to produce rust. That’s oxidation. In this visual aid, iron is your skin — shiny, smooth and strong. When unprotected iron comes into contact with oxygen and water, rust happens. Rust is your skin after years of unprotected sun exposure and life on earth — dehydrated, structurally weakened, transformed by hyperpigmentation, brown spots and more. Rust, like aging or skin damage caused by UV radiation, is the result of oxidation.

Much like their name implies, antioxidants inhibit that process. In recent years, studies have consistently shown that antioxidants received both topically and supplementally do, in fact, protect skin from the effects of oxidation caused by biological and environmental factors, like the ever-present danger of solar ultraviolet radiation. (1, 2)

Your Natural Antioxidant Reserves Are Overwhelmed

Not sure if you’ve heard the latest news, but this planet isn’t getting any more hospitable — for you or your skin. Especially if you’re a part of the two-thirds of the population living in urban areas where environmental factors like pollution aren’t making life easier for the epidermis. Skin has its own built-in antioxidants system to defend itself from free radicals, but excessive exposure is putting it on the losing streak. Research shows that antioxidant supplementation is increasingly useful for managing damage that leads to dehydration, wrinkles and even skin cancer. (3)

Now, Skincare: Vitamins, Green Tea & Red Wine (See Also, Reservatrol)

So how do antioxidants take the power back from free radicals? They’re like an electron donor system that gives back what oxidation takes away to keep everything stable. Some work better than others or bring specific strengths for specific tasks. These are the antioxidants playing the biggest (and most effective) role in skincare right now.

Vitamin C + E

When it comes to stacking your A-team, nobody plays better together than vitamins C and E, the network antioxidants. Vitamin C donates electrons to free radicals, restoring a state of stability. Vitmain E donates electrons back to vitamin C to replenish its wares and keep the cycle of damage control going strong. Moreover, vitamin C enhances UVA protection while vitamin E is better equipped to deal with UVB, making their photoprotective benefits better together. (4)

Green Tea Extract

Green tea is high in polyphenols, up to 30 percent in weight, particularly the polyphenol epigallocatechin 3-gallate (EGCG). A natural antioxidant, several studies have demonstrated that EGCG is pretty badass when it comes to protective and preventative effects against phototoxicity and carcinogenesis, as well as increased hydration. (5, 6, 7)

Reservatrol

Reservatrol is a naturally occurring polyphenol coveted in skincare for its strong antioxidant properties. And where in nature is reservatrol occuring? Grapes. And what contains a high concentration of grape goodness? Red wine. Only reds contain reservatrol, though, because the polyphenol is found in grape seeds and skins. White wines are made by squeezing out just the juices where red wines are the result of crushing up the skins, seeds and all. The list of science-backed benefits from reservatrol is long and growing: not only does it have photoprotective effects against the UV damage and decrease oxidative stress, but it’s also been shown to prevent or slow the progression of diseases like skin cancer. (8, 9, 10)

Disclaimer: Wine is Still Alcohol

None of this means you should start bathing in vats of red wine (or green tea, for that matter) or start a 30-day, 30 bottles of merlot challenge. Red wine is still wine, and alcohol is definitely not anti-aging. It’s dehydrating, especially when paired with too much sun. Besides grapes, reservatrol can also be found in berries, nuts, and legumes if you’re looking to increase your intake through food. Otherwise, stick to topical treatments with reservatrol in them.

Out Comes the Sunscreen

Solar radiation is the most damaging and prolific environmental hazards on the electromagnetic spectrum reaching earth (and earthlings) via sunlight and breaking down skin’s defenses. Overexposure of UV radiation is toxic to skin with adverse effects ranging from sunburn and inflammation to premature aging and cancer, which is why sunscreen is so important. But even broadspectrum sunscreen doesn’t offer 100 percent protection, and, let’s be real, most of us don’t apply it as frequently or liberally as docs and derms recommend. Although antioxidants like vitamins C and E, green tea polyphenols and reservatrol cannot replace sunscreen, their photoprotective benefits can help your sunscreen work better. Use them together or better yet, look for daily sunscreens with antioxidant protection as part of their formulation...because now you know which ingredients to look for! (11, 12)