Antioxidants: The Road to Beautiful Skin

Photo: Candice Sabatini

If you’re wondering how to keep your skin from aging prematurely, and keep it youthfully firm, it’s time to learn the truth about how skin really ages. While we are all familiar with the idea that exposure to the sun ages the skin, in reality, there are other exposures that will also prematurely age the skin, thin it out, and cause wrinkling by converging on one key aspect of aging- oxidative stress.

Free radicals are one of the underlying causes of skin aging. Free radicals are caused by oxidative stress, which is the name to a completely natural process our bodies perform in conjunction with utilizing oxygen. While free radicals are thought of as bad, and something to avoid, we are creating them simply by living, through our natural process of metabolism. However, when they get excessive, they wreak havoc on our skin, causing aging, loss of firmness due to collagen breakdown, blotchiness and age spots, and wrinkling.

What are the common sources of excessive free radical damage in our environment? Well, it is true that the sun exposure is still our most common source of skin-aging free radicals. But environmental pollution is also triggering free radicals in our skin. Other sources of free radical formation include:

• Smog
• Alcohol
• Cigarette smoke
• Lack of sleep and exercise
• Stress (the reason why Presidents age so quickly)
• Illness
• Excessive exercise (the reason why endurance runners look older)
• Fried foods

Antioxidants to the Rescue
Antioxidants quench free radicals. Our skin’s epidermis stockpiles antioxidants to use when free radicals are generated on the skin. Dietary strategies such as eating more fruits and vegetables are necessary to ingest antioxidants in order to get them into your skin from the inside out, or apply them topically from the outside in to augment your own skin’s ability to vanquish the free radicals. In this day and age of rampant environmental assaults, increasing particulate matter in the rising air pollution problem, overconsumption of nutrient depleted foods, stressful lives, and lack of quality sleep, antioxidants are a must in your anti-aging arsenal and will make a big difference in the quality and look of your skin.

Photo: Cross Creek Groves

1. Vitamin C– This is one of the top antioxidants for skin. While generally known for its immune boosting function, Vitamin C is absolutely crucial for healthy skin aging through two mechanisms- quenching free radicals, and making collagen. I highly recommend getting it from food (fruits and vegetables), AND applying it topically.

Photo: Oh! Nuts

2. Vitamin E – Another top antioxidant for the skin. Never forget the Vitamin E! Do you know that one single dose of UV radiation from the sun can deplete the entire amount of Vitamin E currently in the skin? Vitamin E reduces lipid peroxidation (oxidation of fat), photoaging, immunosuppression, skin cancer, inflammation, all important for optimal skin function, however, more impressively, Vitamin E can modulate the genes that are involved in making collagen in your skin AND extend the length of your telomeres, markers of aging. Vitamin E is a prime candidate for the Fountain of Youth. Vitamin E is found abundantly in nuts and seeds. Topical Vitamin E is very important too.

Photo: Rivertea

3. Green Tea – you can drink your antioxidants too, by consuming green tea every day. Green tea is an anti-aging wonder, chock full of catechins, especially epigallocatechin-3 (EGCG) which are powerful antioxidants that help clear skin of blemishes, as well as helping to repair and prevent wrinkling, prevent skin cancer, reduce inflammation, and increase microcirculation. Green tea topical products are quickly gaining market share.

Photo: Candice Sabatini

4. Lycopene – a member of the carotenoid family, is a powerhouse antioxidant found in red fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, watermelon, papaya, red grapefruit, goji berries, and pomegranate that has the ability to fight free radicals, promote collagen formation, and prevent and repair DNA damage. Lycopene supplements are available, as well as topical formulations. Remember with respect to tomatoes, cooked tomatoes have much higher bioavailability of lycopene than raw tomatoes.

5. Grape Seed Extract – a gold mine of youth and health promoting molecules. No article on beautiful skin can be without a discussion of grape seed extract! Grape seed extract is rich in proanthocyanidins and its antioxidant activity is much stronger than that of Vitamin C and E! It is also anti-allergic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer. This is available in supplement form, and also many skin care lines are based on grape seed extract for those who want to apply topically. Grape seed extract in topical products is particularly emphasized in Europe. This is one supplement that I am never without.

6. Glutathione – This is your body’s master antioxidant and prime detoxifier. Glutathione is something your body can make on its own and store in the skin to be used as the first line of defense against free radical and damage from toxins. Unfortunately, glutathione levels decline with age. As a doctor of naturopathy specializing in Environmental Medicine, I believe detoxification is the ultimate beauty boost, and one of the first places you can see real change under a detoxification protocol is in the skin. Glutathione can be found in some foods like avocado, watermelon, and cruciferous vegetables. But supplementing with a special form of glutathione that the body is able to use (which needs to be prescribed by a natural medicine physician), or with a supplement called N-acetyl-cysteine, a precursor to glutathione, provides a bigger boost to the body’s glutathione levels. Be aware that while glutathione is available on the internet and in the health food stores, the oral forms are not absorbed into the blood stream. Glutathione also has an appealing side effect: preliminary studies have shown it to whiten skin color by inhibiting tyrosinase activity- the method in which melanin is formed. You can expect to see a profusion of new products in the skin care and supplement market in the near future to take full advantage of all the anti-aging characteristics of glutathione.

The road to great skin is paved with good intentions, and plenty of antioxidants. The easiest way to get more antioxidants into our body is to increase the amount of fruits and vegetables you eat (and the absolute easiest is to juice them) and make sure you use a topical antioxidant serum underneath your regular moisturizer and sunscreen.

Photo: Candice Sabatini

Dr. Anne Marie Fine, is a naturopathic doctor based in Newport Beach, Ca, is the founder and CEO of Fine Natural Products which provides organic, botanical and vitamin-based skin care. She’s an award-winning researcher, author and speaker. Dr. Fine is especially sensitive to the effects of toxicants found in personal care products and their effect of developing fetuses, children, and adults. Read more at

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