How Do Antioxidants Work?

What are Antioxidants?


Protecting Your Skin from Free Radicals

Whether you’re talking about your diet, skin care routine, or your overall health habits, “antioxidant” has become a buzzword. You’ve likely seen several kinds of products touted as being good for you because they’re rich in antioxidants. But what exactly does that mean?

Our goal is to help you understand what antioxidants are and how they benefit you (because they do!), you must first grasp some basic biochemistry.

Starting with the Basics

As you’ll remember from science class, everything is made up of atoms, from your food and drink to the chair you’re sitting on. Each atom is comprised of a core of positively charged protons and neutrons surrounded by negatively charged electrons. Molecules are formed when two or more atoms are linked together. These molecules make up the human body, forming our DNA, fats, and proteins.

For organisms to function properly, your body relies on a series of chemical reactions known as metabolism. As your body metabolizes molecules, they can be broken down into smaller molecules or combined to form larger molecules. During this process, it’s important that each molecule maintains the correct number of electrons to remain stable.  If a molecule mistakenly loses an electron, it can become a free radical.

What are Free Radicals?

So, free radicals are essentially unstable molecules, but why exactly are they bad? When left to their own devices, free radicals can react with other molecules within your body, including your DNA, effectively damaging them. Sometimes, free radicals can trigger chain reactions, where the molecules they damage are also converted into free radicals. In short, free radicals have been linked to accelerated aging, as well as diseases like cancer, dementia, asthma, and diabetes.

The Relationship Between Antioxidants and Free Radicals

With your body in a constant state of metabolism, free radicals are created all the time, which is why you need antioxidants. At their most basic, antioxidants are molecules that keep free radicals in check by neutralizing them. They accomplish this by donating electrons, effectively rebalancing the molecules in your cells.

When the free radicals in your body outnumber antioxidants, the body can enter into a state of oxidative stress, which can damage and even kill cells. This condition can be further exacerbated by:

  • Pollution
  • Too much or too little oxygen
  • Excessive consumption of vitamins and minerals, such as iron, magnesium, zinc, copper, and vitamins C and E
  • Radiation
  • High blood sugar
  • Toxins
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Cigarette smoke

However, as with many things in life, it’s all about balance. While too many free radicals within the body can harm your cells, they do serve a purpose in maintaining your overall health. In controlled amounts, free radicals target harmful bacteria and accelerate the rate at which we eliminate toxins and waste products.

The Relationship Between Antioxidants and Free Radicals

Best Sources of Antioxidants

All organisms have innate defenses against free radicals, and your body uses the antioxidants that can be found in nearly all food sources – plant and animal alike. Two of the most critical antioxidants you need in your diet are vitamins C and E, which can be found in many fruits and vegetables. Animal products contain antioxidants as well; however, in much smaller concentrations.

If you’re looking to increase your antioxidant uptake, consider making these antioxidant-rich foods a regular part of your diet:

  • Berries
  • Dark chocolate
  • Coffee
  • Spinach
  • Pecans
  • Kidney beans
  • Cinnamon
  • Turmeric
  • Ginger

Benefits of Antioxidants in Skincare

Now that you know even more about how antioxidants help us internally, where exactly do they apply to skin care? It’s easy to forget that your skin is your body’s largest organ – as such, it absorbs everything you put on it. Therefore, it’s crucial to be mindful of the products and ingredients you expose your skin to on a daily basis.

And since we realize that free radicals can accelerate the aging process, this fact definitely factors into your skin care, too. When your body is deficient in antioxidants, free radicals can damage your skin cells, and in turn, your complexion. Antioxidant-rich skin care products can help combat the signs of aging caused by free radical damage, leaving you with skin that is healthy and happy.

Here are some of our favorite skin-loving antioxidants that can be found in skin, body and personal care products.

  • Vitamin E (tocopherol) – protects the skin from free radicals like pollution or UV from damaging healthy skin cells. Many oils and plants contain natural vitamin E, the form that the body can most easily recognize and make use of its benefits.
  • Green Tea – Is one of the most well-researched antioxidants. It is said to contain the most potent components needed to neutralize free radicals. It’s ability to calm the look and feel of inflammation is what makes it such an important antioxidant for protecting cells, contributing to a younger-looking complexion and helping the body to fend itself from disease.
  • Grapeseed Oil – High in polyphenols, grapeseed oil binds with free radicals, stopping them from damaging healthy skin cells. Some studies show grapeseed benefits similar to the antioxidant protection provided by vitamin E and vitamin C.
  • Lycopene – This natural antioxidant also helps to fight inflammation and protects the skin from environmental pollutants that can harm the skin and cause breakouts.

Note, we do not include vitamin C on this list for topical skin care. Some research has shown that the concentrations of vitamin C needed to provide sufficient antioxidant protection can be irritating to the skin. Vitamin C can be very unstable in skin care formulations, especially those that do not contain synthetic ingredients.

Sun Damage Repair

One of the quickest ways you can compromise the integrity of your skin is through radiation. Most commonly, this means exposure to ultraviolet rays from too much direct and unprotected access to sunlight. With antioxidants, you can halt and reverse damage done by free radicals by stimulating circulation, which encourages new cell growth.


Antioxidant vitamins C and E are excellent for reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. These vitamins help to plump your skin, soften wrinkles, and bestow a more youthful appearance to the skin.


As you undergo the aging process, your skin begins to lose elasticity over time, resulting in a loss of firmness. Antioxidants like CoQ-10 help reduce and even prevent these common signs of aging.


Inflammation is the root of many common skin issues, including acne, redness, uneven skin tone, and wrinkles. Antioxidants calm inflammation by boosting cell metabolism and increasing circulation.

Luckily, your body is well equipped to deal with free radical damage on its own, but if you’d like to support this natural function, there are simple steps you can take to do so. By making healthy lifestyle choices when it comes to what’s going in and on your body, avoiding excess, and maintaining a colorful, varied diet, you can ensure your body is maintaining an optimal level of antioxidants.