Skincare Science: Antioxidants & Anti-Ageing

Skincare Science: Antioxidants & Anti-Ageing

I'm the kind of person who likes to seriously do their research when I'm interested in something, so of course that applies to skincare as well. I completely understand that not everyone has the time or can be bothered to scour the internet for this kind of information, so I thought I'd put together a guide to some popular skincare ingredients and what they can do for you. Clearly I'm not a cosmetic scientist but I have Googled, read and collected some information and hopefully you find it helpful! And obviously if you have any concerns you should consult a professional because I'm not one.

If you're on the younger side of 25 anti-aging skincare probably doesn't rank too highly on your list of priorities, but I believe that regardless of what age you are, preventing skin damage is always going to be better than trying to reverse the damage later in life. So let's start from square one, in simple terms, our skin is constantly producing collagen which is a protein that holds our bodies together. As we age, our ability to replenish damaged collagen slows down, allowing wrinkles to form. Aside from generally getting older, the main causes of damage to collagen are UVA rays, free radicals and smoking. To combat these we have SPF, antioxidants and y'know, not smoking. I think smoking and sun damage are pretty self explanatory, but I will talk a bit more about free radicals and antioxidants.

Free radicals are molecules that are missing an electron and will steal electrons from your body (this is called oxidation or oxidisation.) Think of how a banana or an avocado will brown when you cut it open - this is free radical damage taking place and it's inescapable. The stealing of electrons causes damage to our collagen, and so we use antioxidants in skincare to neutralise this damage. Antioxidants will generously sacrifice their own electrons to keep ours safe. So essentially, if you're trying to prevent wrinkles and premature signs of ageing you will want to:

  1. Wear SPF daily to protect against UVA rays which break down collagen
  2. Not smoke
  3. Use antioxidants in your skincare to prevent free radical damage
  4. Use cell-communicating ingredients in your skincare that will encourage your cells to repair themselves

So here's a bit more information about some common antioxidant and cell-communicating ingredients and what they can do for your skin. Generally speaking, the serum step is where this really counts and where you'll find products that are most effective. I'm a firm believer in investing in my skincare and I also like to have my bases covered, so I always have a few serums on rotation at any given time. Clearly that's not the cheapest way of doing things, but you do only get one face in your lifetime. In any case, most of the products I've pictured above are mid-priced and are available in Priceline so if you can pick them up during a 40% off sale you're in business.


NOTE: Antioxidants are destabilised when they come into contact with light and air (i.e. they oxidise before you get to use them) so the most effective products are going to be found in pump bottles and opaque tubes, not jars. There are lots of different ingredients with antioxidant properties but two of the most common are Vitamins C & E. 

Vitamin C (L-Ascorbic Acid) (sources: 1234, 5)
The most common form of vitamin C and the form with the most research behind it is L-Ascorbic Acid. Using vitamin C topically can boost your skin's collagen production, reduce inflammation and help fade post-breakout hyperpigmentation (red marks.) It can also reduce the appearance of brown spots and sun damage and it boosts your skin's natural defence against UV exposure.

Vitamin E (Alpha-Tocopherol) (sources: 12)
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble antioxidant that protects the skin from free-radical damage, helps the skin protect itself from UV rays and strengthens the skin's barrier function to reduce water loss and dehydration of the skin. Interestingly, it's been found that vitamins C and E have a cumulative effect. That is, both vitamins are more effective when used together than either of them alone. Vitamin E can often be found included in other products like the Mecca to Save Face SPF30 so you can double up rather than looking for dedicated Vitamin E products.

Cell-Communicating Ingredients 

What "cell-communicating" means is that these ingredients have the ability to tell a damaged skin cell to look, act and behave healthy again. They can also stop other substances from telling the cell to act differently. (Sources: 12)

Vitamin A (Retinol) (sources: 12)
Retinol is both an antioxidant and a cell-communicating ingredient. So as well as being able to directly tell cells to act healthy, it can also interrupt free-radicals and prevent them from causing damage to your skin. Like vitamins C & E, retinol breaks down in the presence of light and air, so make sure your retinol products aren't packaged in jars. Retinol can cause irritation in high concentrations or before your skin is used to it, so try introducing it into your routine a few nights a week at first, but unless you're using a prescription strength retinol or have very sensitive skin you'll probably be fine.

Niacinamide (Vitamin B3) (sources: 1234)
Niacinamide does a whole range of things - it helps improve skin's elasticity by stimulating cells to produce more collagen and it also increases the production of ceramides which boost the skin's barrier function and shield it from moisture loss and bacteria. It is also anti-inflammatory and helps fade hyperpigmentation left behind after breakouts more quickly, as well as sun/age related pigmentation like brown spots.

Peptides (source: 1234)
At the forefront of skincare technology, peptides are segments of amino acids that make up protein in the body like collagen. They are also cell-communicating, so by using synthetic peptides we can tell our skin that it needs to produce more collagen. There's some debate about whether or not peptides can actually be absorbed into the skin and communicate their message before they break down, but synthetic peptides created in labs are increasingly more stable and effective so it's a very exciting area of skincare science to keep an eye on.