Special Interest Topics

A Primer on Free Radicals

There’s a lot of buzz about free radicals and for good reason. These tiny particles are responsible for our entire understanding of aging within the human body.

Free radicals are negative particles that, like a magnet, seek to couple with positive forces, wherever they may be found. These positive charges are not easily found within the dermis, so free radicals instead “steal” this positive charge from stable molecules within the skin, most notably collagen and elastin – vital elements of the skin’s integrity. Over years, a bundle of collagen acquires several points of damage leading to dysfunction.  The result is a weakened dermis that sags and wilts over time.

What causes free radicals? Most commonly, UV exposure disrupts electron paths within the dermis, leading to these unstable particles. Other insults to the skin like pollution and chronic irritation may likewise lead to the generation of free radicals. The best defense against free radicals is preventing their occurrence at the outset by blocking UV rays and keeping the skin hyrdated. Once free radicals are formed, the body has a natural defense against them comprised of enzymes like super oxide dismutase (SOD), catalase, and glutathione peroxidase. But once this natural enzymatic system is depleted (think of a worn-out force-field) our skin is very susceptible to attack.

Antioxidant supplements can be enormously helpful once natural defenses have been depleted. Botanical systems have their own anti-oxidants that are readily transferrable when applied to our own skin. Feverfew, white tea, and licorice are among nature’s most powerful anti-oxidants. These ingredients help to scavenge then neutralize unstable negative charges.

The entire concept of aging is the progression of free radical damage, everywhere in the body. Prevention of the formation of radicals is tantamount to healthy skin – the capture of these radicals once formed can help keep collagen protected and the dermis healthy-appearing for years to come.


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