Everyone likes free stuff – free movie tickets, free coffee, free furniture. But what about free radicals? Most of us have heard the term, but don’t fully understand what they are, what they do to the body, nor how to get rid of them. We might understand that they’re “bad,” and that we don’t want them in our body, but in order to understand where they come from, we need to take a short course in high school chemistry.
Where Do Free Radicals Come From?
The human body is composed of billions of molecules in a stable, content form. All of these molecules have electrons circulating around them. A molecule is normal, stable, and content when it has an even number of electrons circulating it, usually 2, 4, 6, or 8. Each electron has a partner for stability.
When the molecules are exposed to a destructive force, like UV radiation, sun exposure, cigarette smoke, poor diet, pollution, and stress, they exhibit inflammation. The inflammation causes an imbalance in our stable molecules. The stress caused by this inflammation – think, an explosion – actually knocks off an electron from the molecule, leaving the molecule with either 1, 3, 5, or 7 electrons. The molecule is now unbalanced and will be on an aggressive pursuit to get an electron back.
This unbalanced molecule is often called a “free radical.” Free radicals themselves don’t directly come from UV radiation, sun exposure, cigarette smoke, poor diet, pollution, or stress, but are created by the body in response to these outside forces.
Free radicals will try to grab an electron from a neighboring, stable molecule, possibly stealing an electron and creating a new free radical. This vicious cycle will continue, creating what’s normally called a cascade effect – the presence of many free radicals. The free radicals will be out of control within our body, damaging our skin by banging into cellular membranes, collagen, etc. The banging sensation will destroy the support structures of our skin, which is what keeps us looking young and healthy.
These free radicals act like lunatics, creating a pathway of destruction in our skin’s most vital formation, and possibly causing mutations of our genetic material, a damage that will appear in future years. Smoking and sun exposure are the two most common causes of inflammation in our body, creating that imbalance of molecules or “free radicals.”
How Can We Stop Free Radicals?
Antioxidants play a main role in eliminating free radicals. Antioxidants neutralize the imbalanced molecules. They do this by donating an electron to a free radical to allow it to stabilize. Once that molecule has an even number of electrons, it resumes its normal function.
Antioxidants save us from internal combustion of our own bodies’ molecules. Remember, all antioxidants work the same with their donations. Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and the carotenoids (beta-carotene, lutein and lycopene) will all hand over one of their electrons to the unbalanced molecule. You can find these antioxidants in green tea, most fruits, vegetables like spinach, carrots, brussels sprouts, and many other antioxidants on the market. They are efficient and effective in neutralizing that unbalanced electron, or free radical.
Topical application of Vitamin C offers the skin 40 times more protection compared to oral consumption. The stomach regulates how much Vitamin C (approximately 1,200 mg) is distributed throughout the body, whereas topical application to the face has no regulatory limit. It will take and use it in a much greater concentration, especially when formulated properly, in the precious parts of our skin for maximum protection. Vitamin C is the antioxidant that the skin uses the most.
So What Does This Mean for Us?
Yes, our diet needs to be rich in oral antioxidants as well as topical regimens to help prevent further damage to our skin. Topical regimens protect our skin from free radicals that are formed from harmful forces in our environment, such as cellulite, smoking, stress, pollution, and many other conditions that are poorly understood.