Products with antioxidant labels are now the trend. The more popular antioxidants are extracts of green tea, grapes, and mangosteen. Best-sellers include glutathione, vitamins C & E, a-lipoic acid, and CoQ10. Cosmetic companies advertise antioxidant products that claim to reduce or even eliminate the signs of skin aging. The marketing hype is repeated over and over that it now appears to be the gospel truth. But what really is the truth about antioxidants?
Aging is a complex natural process. It involves genetic, hormonal and environmental mechanisms. Free radicals play a central role in aging. They are highly reactive oxygen molecules that can damage various cellular structures in our body. They are produced naturally through normal human metabolism. They are also formed by environmental factors such as UV exposure, cigarette smoking, and alcohol consumption.
The body possesses natural defense mechanisms. It produces antioxidants, substances that provide protection against free radicals. As we age, our natural defense mechanisms decreases, while the production of reactive free radicals increases. This imbalance results in accelerated aging.
Topical application of antioxidants helps neutralize free radicals, and consequently lessen or prevent signs of skin aging. Beyond prevention, many topical antioxidants are also marketed to eliminate wrinkles. However, among antioxidants, only vitamin C can actually treat wrinkles by boosting collagen production through a mechanism other than antioxidation. For other products, their ability to improve wrinkles is either due to swelling or hydrating effects, or to other ingredients, such as the exfoliating retinol, AHA and BHA, and collagen boosters like hyaluronic acid and amino peptides.
Current research suggests that antioxidants can have synergistic effects and, thus, better efficacy when combined. Examples are Vitamin C and glutathione, and vitamin C and E. Also, an additive benefit may be derived from using a combination of oral and topical antioxidant products. For topically administered antioxidants to be effective, there are two important concerns that are now addressed by advanced nano-encapsulation technology:
1) Product stabilization. Antioxidants are very unstable; they may become oxidized and inactive before reaching the target. Encapsulation provides a protective layer that can keep the antioxidant as active as when it was blended during production.
2) Skin absorption. Antioxidants must be small enough to be absorbed into the skin, reach their target tissue in the active form, and remain there long enough to exert the desired effects. Nanotechnology converts antioxidants to nano-sized particles to enhance skin penetration.
Bottomline. Antioxidants play a key role in prevention of premature skin aging. However, they cannot undo the damage done by free radicals at the cellular level. Topical and oral antioxidants cannot erase wrinkles and crows feet. They cannot firm up sagging skin. An antioxidant product that claims to make you look younger is either over promising, or has other ingredients that can exfoliate, plump, and hydrate skin. Always look at the ingredients list.
____________________________________________________________________________This was published in the May 22, 2012 issue of Manila Bulletin, Lifestyle Section.The author is the CEO of SkinStation. He received the 2011 Outstanding Chemist Award from Professional Regulations Commission for his achievements in the field of cosmetic chemistry. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.