Free Radicals, the Enemy of Skin

Nothing defines age more than the look of your skin.And who doesn’t want to look younger than his or her actual age?Topical skin care products can provide UV protection and moisturize the outer layer of skin, but otherwise are mainly just a cover-up.If you truly want optimal skin protection, you must work from the inside out.A section of skin looks like a sponge with a waterproof protective covering on the outside. The thin outer covering is called the epidermis. It is composed of thin flat cells stacked one on top of another like a deck of cards. New cells come in at the bottom and old cells, by then dead and dehydrated, flake off at the outer top surface.

The spongy layer, called the dermis, contains interlacing strands of collagen and blood vessels. The network of collagen strands (and another protein called elastin) make the sponge “spongy”. Collagen also supports the walls of the blood vessels.


Cross section

Thinning of skin, wrinkling, and easy bruising, the tell-tale signs of aging, occur as a direct result of damage to collagen and elastin strands.

Keeping your skin radiant and healthy is a matter of protecting your collagen.

Notorious “collagen crunchers” include sunlightglucose from high starch and sugar diets, toxins, and chronic stress.

Sunlight is composed of UV, infrared, and visible light. UV light from the sun (20% of sunlight) causes direct damage to skin and increases risk of skin cancers, but the infrared and visible components of sunlight (80% of sunlight) are more apt to generate free radicals in tissues that destroy collagen. Wrinkles mostly come from exposure to infrared and visible, not UV.

Sunscreen will protect you from UV light… but not infrared and visible.

Aside from covering up your skin with clothing, your best protection from infrared and visible is building up lots of antioxidants in your skin!

Healthful habits for maintaining radiant skin:

  • Wear a hat and protective clothing
  • Use sunscreen, but be aware that many products contain toxic chemicals*
  • Eat lots of green leafy vegetables and colorful fruits and vegetables
  • Avoid processed high carbohydrate foods
  • Don’t smoke!
  • Eat organic food and filter your drinking water
  • Get plenty of sleep
  • Support collagen health with antioxidant supplements

*The Environmental Working Group ( regularly posts lists of safe sunscreen products and skincare products free of harmful toxins.

Antioxidant Support: Carotenoids

Chemicals called carotenoids accumulate in the layers of the skin and protect against the damaging effects of the sun. They “fire off” free radicals and light particles before damage is done to collagen and other skin structures.

Leafy greens such as kale and orange vegetables such as carrots and peppers are good sources of carotenoids. Lutein, zeaxanthin, and astaxanthin are the three most important carotenoids for protecting skin and eyes from sun damage.

  • Lutein – gives yellow, orange, and green vegetables their pigments
  • Zeaxanthin (1mg) – is found in highest concentrations in dark, leafy greens
  • Lycopene – a skin protecting antioxidant found in tomatoes
  • Astaxanthin – found in salmon, shrimp & krill, is an extremely strong carotenoid that has powerful UV light absorbing properties

Antioxidant Support: Polyphenols

Polyphenols are a diverse group of related chemical compounds offering extremely powerful antioxidant protection to all areas of the body, including skin. The primary health benefits of consuming green tea, dark chocolate and red wine come from polyphenols.

  • Resveratrol / Japanese Knotweed – Resveratrol offers potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties to all tissues in the body, and is one of the most commonly used substances in the beauty industry for anti-aging products. Though resveratrol is commonly associated with grapes, Japanese knotweed is the actually the best natural source of resveratrol. Japanese knotweed contains high concentrations of trans-resveratrol, the activated form of resveratrol, which the body more readily absorbs and uses.
  • Pine bark extract – provides another form of polyphenols called Oligomeric proanthocyanidins (OPCs for short). OPCs have been shown in clinical studies to reverse the symptoms of photo-aged skin. The substances are very protective of collagen throughout the body, including joints, skin and brain.
  • Blueberries, blackberries, acai berries, pomegranate – yet another group of polyphenols called anthocyanins, which provide berries with their dark pigment, offers slightly different protection by providing full range protection from different wavelengths of light.

*Statements on this page have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. For medical concerns, please consult a qualified healthcare provider.

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