Do you ever feel that between the sun, blue light from our devices and pollution that modern day living is making your skin age? Or, that by accidentally crossing the street behind a bus exhaust, you’ve just inflamed your pre-existing melasma condition? (You know, the one you thought you had under control?)

Well, you are not alone. More and more studies definitively show how stressors such as UV and pollutants are bombarding our skin with free radicals and overwhelming our natural antioxidant defenses.

What is the big deal about free radicals and the skin?

Everyone likes freebies. But what about free radicals? Most of us have heard the term bandied about, but don’t really fully understand what they are or how they can cause damage. And this is key to understanding why antioxidants are so important. So let’s take a quick dive into skin chemistry (I’ll be gentle I promise).

Where Do Free Radicals Come From?

The human body is composed of billions of molecules with electrons circulating around them. Kind of like a solar system. A molecule is normal, stable, and content when it has an even number of electrons circulating it with partners for stability.

Now imagine an incoming asteroid: sun exposure, cigarette smoke, poor diet, pollution or stress. This upsets this delicate balance by actually knocking an electron off a molecule, leaving it with an uneven number. 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.”

Hell hath no fury like a free radical

Unpaired electrons are attention seekers. They really don’t like being alone, so are always searching out other electrons. This makes them highly reactive. Free radicals are like the unstable friend who shows up drunk to the party and starts breaking things.

The free radical will then try to grab an electron from a neighboring, stable molecule, stealing its electron and creating a new free radical.

This vicious cycle will continue, creating what’s called a cascade effect — the presence of many free radicals. These free radicals act like kamikaze pilots leaving a path of destruction in their wake. This means that left defenseless, our skin will look like the equivalent of Hiroshima a few years down the line.

The good news

Antioxidants are like the equivalent of the United Nations peacekeeping force, able to neutralize these free radicals. They are able to donate an electron to the free radical, thus stabilizing it. Kind of like the patient friend who is able to convince the free radical not to drive home, who takes him to the back room to calm him down, and brings him water and a bucket once he starts throwing up.

Needless to say, without the presence of antioxidants, free radicals can really ruin the party. The cellular damage that results is called oxidative stress, and is associated with ageing, pigmentation and cancer. An everyday example of oxidation is how quickly a cut apple turns brown when exposed to free radicals in the air. If the thought of this happening to your skin fills you with horror, read on.

Antioxidants please!

Antioxidants in skincare tick both of the boxes for being a skin fundamental. They both PROTECT and REPAIR. So they are essential to apply during the daytime to protect us from the warzone of free radicals we are exposed to daily but also key to apply at night to repair the damage caused. Sadly, free radicals don’t sleep, so having antioxidants in your nightly skin-care routine helps.

So what are some examples of these philanthropists so willing to hand over their free electrons to save our skin?

The most famous and well-studied antioxidant remains Vitamin C. In fact, Vitamin C is like the Mahatma Gandhi of skincare. Its willingness to hand over its free electrons makes it an incredibly potent antioxidant.  

But there are many others – think green tea, pomegranates, niacinamide and resveratrol.

Some – Vit E and Ferulic acid for example, while powerful on their own, become even more potent in combination with Vitamin C. This is why many serums boast a cocktail of antioxidants. So if your cream reads like the menu at a smoothie stand, that’s a good thing.


Packaging matters: antioxidants lose efficacy faster when exposed to light and air. Skip jars and choose opaque, air-tight bottles.

You can’t have too much of a good thing: Antioxidants can work synergistically and stabilise each other. The more you use, the better.

Go high: Look at the ingredient list (AKA the INCI of a product). The higher an antioxidant is on the ingredient list, the higher its concentration and the better it’ll work.

Complete Serum rich in Resveratrol and Niacinamide

Face Crème Originale with its power trio of Vitamin C, Vitamin E and Ferulic acid.

Eye Crème Solution containing Vitamin A, Vitamin E, Niacinamide and Superoxide dismutase

The take home message is that when it comes to antioxidants, very much like a party, the more the merrier. And if you invite along some antioxidant-rich superfoods obtained through diet (think goji berries and blueberries) which can squash the oxidation happening inside our bodies, even better!

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