Today we are continuing with our Inflammation series, focusing on antioxidants – what they are, how they help prevent inflammation, their other functions, why we need to supplement our body’s natural antioxidants and the best sources…
WHAT ARE ANTIOXIDANTS?
We touched on their anti-inflammatory action in our post, Inflammation and Its Impact on Skin. Antioxidants are the little soldiers (substances) which protect our body and skin from free radicals. Free radicals are molecules created by normal body and skin functions (metabolism), and also when exposed to environmental factors such as pollution and UV rays (oxidative stress which can cause discolouration of the skin, hyperpigmentation, dryness and dehydration). We naturally have an army of antioxidants waiting to pair up with the free radicals and neutralise their damaging impact to our DNA.
As we get older, our natural army of antioxidants reduces, whilst the creation of free radicals increases. Our army of antioxidants need help, otherwise the free radicals will cause damage to the structure of the membranes which protect cells, to lipids (natural fats), and protein (keratin, elastin, collagen), resulting in a weakening of the skin barrier. A weakened skin barrier can lead to dryness, irritation, increased sensitivity, breakouts and the triggering or exacerbation of inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema. Therefore, it’s important for us to support our natural antioxidants through both our diet and skincare products.
THE BEST SOURCES OF DIETARY ANTIOXIDANTS
If you cut an apple in half and leave it, it will go brown – the process of oxidation takes place. By squeezing lemon or lime juice on it, you can prevent this browning (the oxidation process) from happening. This is because it has the antioxidant vitamin C in it. The same principle applies to our overall health and skin. To have a healthy body and healthy skin we need to have enough antioxidants in our system. By eating food in its natural state and cooking from scratch you can make a big difference.
Dietary antioxidants can be found in fruit, vegetables, plant-based, unprocessed, unrefined foods such as wholegrains, beans and nuts (also referred to as “whole foods”). Important antioxidants in the diet include vitamin C (water-soluble and work both inside and outside the cells), vitamin E (fat-soluble and work to protect cell membranes against oxidative damage) and flavonoids (group of plant antioxidants). We need to choose a rainbow of colours to ensure we are getting a full range of antioxidants. Aim to eat about 5 servings per day. Try to purchase fresh produce locally or from a farm shop/market as the longer fruit and vegetables sit on the grocery shelves, they lose their nutrients.
Foods rich in antioxidants include: apples, blueberries, plums, pears, mangos, papayas, apricots, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, cherries, tomatoes, carrots, broccoli, kale, spinach, red cabbage, sweet potatoes, red peppers, artichokes, lentils, kidney beans, black beans, dark chocolate, almonds, pecans, hazelnuts, walnuts, pistachios, oily fish, eggs and cheese.
In addition to these, there are a variety of herbs and spices which not only enrich the flavour of the food but also are rich in antioxidants. For example, Turmeric contains curcumin which neutralises free radicals and stimulates the body’s own antioxidant enzymes. It also has anti-inflammatory properties.
Others include Fresh Basil, Mint, Thyme, Sage, Tarragon, Marjoram, Black Pepper, Ginger, Curry Powder, Ground Ginger, Garlic (Garlic Powder), Onion Powder, Chili Powder, Paprika, Mustard Seeds, Cinnamon, Cumin Seeds, Cardamom, Ground Cloves, Dried Oregano, Dried Parsley. Another favourite ingredient of ours is Olive Oil. It has an abundance of antioxidants in it and is widely used in the healthy Mediterranean diet.
Antioxidants can also be found in regular teas and herbal teas. We tend to opt for matcha or green tea which have high antioxidant content. While coffee is rich in polyphenols (a type of antioxidant), we know that too much isn’t good for us. Another option is hot chocolate but this needs to be unsweetened as sugar can cause oxidative stress.
ANTIOXIDANTS IN SKINCARE
Antioxidants in skincare are derived from plants and are commonly phenolic compounds such as polyphenols, vitamins such as A, C, D (we can produce this ourselves in skin), and E, and carotenoids (which gives tomatoes, carrots, peppers, etc their colour). The same applies in our skincare as it does in our diet – the closer the plant is to its natural state, the more accessible the antioxidants are to us.
Retinols (Vitamin A) which can be found in moisturisers and serums, penetrate deep into the skin in order to help with skin regeneration and boost collagen production. It helps to re-balance and heal skin, improve texture and uneven skin tone, produce sebum if it’s naturally lacking, slow down the normal breakdown of protein, collagen and elastin and unclogs pores as well as providing the added bonus of boosting skin luminosity. Our Scalp Oil, Face Oil and Eye Oil all contain naturally vitamin A rich oils such as Rosehip Oil, Moringa Seed Oil and Baobab Seed Oil.
Vitamin C is readily available in a lot of skincare products and is frequently contained in serums in varying concentrations which are excellent at penetrating the skin barrier and absorbs easily into the skin to work at cellular levels. It helps neutralise free radicals, aids skin regeneration, boosts collagen and elastin production, inhibits tyrosinase and helps with uneven skin tone, removes mineral build-up and gives us a more radiant complexion. We prefer the natural Vitamin C found in plant oils to L-ascorbic acid (the purest form of Vitamin C commonly found in products) – marula seed, rosehip oil, pomegranate seed oil all are rich in Vitamin C naturally, and suitable for sensitive skin. We have used these oils in our face oil, eye oil, and body oil.
Vitamin E, however, is the most common found in skincare products because of how it helps to protect the skin’s protective barrier (which helps to lock in moisture and prevent trans-epidermal water loss, keeping our skin and scalp hydrated). It also aids blood circulation in the skin and scalp, improves hair health and growth, reduces dandruff, balances oil production, inhibits tyrosinase and treats hyperpigmentation, stimulates collagen synthesis and increases elasticity by protecting fibroblasts, promotes cell turnover and regeneration (resulting in increased wound healing and cell repairing), gives us firmer, healthier-looking skin and longer, stronger, shinier hair. Vitamin E is also a powerful anti-inflammatory which calms and soothes our skin and scalp. Tocopherol (one of the eight types of Vitamin E), sourced from the soybean, is used in all our products for its preservative properties and all of these skin/scalp benefits. The naturally-rich vitamin E oils we use include: Marula Seed Oil, Pomegranate Seed Oil, Baobab Seed Oil, Rosehip Oil, Moringa Seed Oil, Organic Hemp Seed Oil, Organic Sweet Almond Oil and Tamanu Seed Oil.
Resveratrol, which is sourced from the skin of grapes, blueberries, raspberries and peanuts, is another antioxidant sometimes used in skincare products such as moisturisers and eye creams. This helps to calm any redness of the skin and brightens tired-looking skin.
As well as drinking green tea, you can apply it topically (most commonly found in moisturisers and often with aloe). Green tea helps to defend the skin’s surface and also calms and soothes any redness.
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ARE YOU GETTING ENOUGH ANTIOXIDANTS IN YOUR DIET + SKINCARE?
We’d love for you to tell us in a comment below!