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Oxidative Stress

Anytime you hear the word “stress”, you intuitively know it’s probably not a good thing. Indeed, oxidative stress is bad news for your skin as well as overall health, which is why it’s super important to understand what it is, why it’s harmful, and what you can do to protect yourself.

What is it?

Oxidative stress is when there’s an imbalance between the number of antioxidants and free radicals produced in your body, which can lead to cell and tissue damage over time [1]. Free radicals are oxygen-containing molecules with unpaired electrons. This is where things get a bit technical, so a quick chemistry refresher might help:

Everything in the universe is made up of molecules, which are themselves made up of atoms. All atoms are made of protons, neutrons, and electrons. The electrons are the negatively charged particles orbiting around the protons and neutrons. Whether an atom is stable or not largely depends on the arrangement of its electrons. Generally speaking, atoms with an uneven number of electrons are less stable, and stability matters because it determines how reactive a particular substance is. The more unstable a substance is, the more easily it reacts with other substances.

So, back to the free radicals. Because free radicals have an uneven number of electrons, they’re highly reactive with other substances, and can cause all sorts of chemical reactions—referred to as oxidation because of oxygen’s role in them—to take place in your body. Antioxidants, on the other hand, are kind of the opposite of free radicals. Antioxidants are molecules that are stable enough to donate an electron to free radicals, which stabilizes them and prevents them from being so reactive [2]. Kind of like giving a screaming toddler a cookie to calm them down!


So, you can think of antioxidants as scavengers, looking everywhere for free radicals that need neutralising. Free radicals aren’t all bad, though. In small amounts, free radicals can be beneficial and are important to the normal functioning of the body. It’s when their numbers grow out of proportion that they start to cause damage. When the body is overloaded with free radicals, havoc ensues, including the development of chronic diseases such as various cancers, cardiovascular illnesses, autoimmune disorders, inflammatory conditions, and premature ageing
[3]


At this point, you may be wondering where free radicals come from and what you can do to protect yourself from accumulating too many. Well, free radicals can be normally produced in your body (as are antioxidants), but they can also be introduced from:

  • Radiation (including UV radiation from the sun!)
  • Environmental pollutants
  • Ozone in the environment
  • Industrial chemicals and solvents
  • Certain drugs and pesticides
  • Cigarette smoke and alcohol
  • A diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates [4]

to name a few [2].

How can you protect yourself?

There are two main ways to best protect yourself and your skin from over-accumulating free radicals: preventing or reducing oxidative stress from occurring in the first place, and introducing more antioxidants into your body. Let’s see how you can apply both those methods for maximum protection!

 

1. Put up your defences.
To reduce the amount of oxidative stress you’re exposed to, try to reduce your exposure to the harmful environmental sources of free radicals: 

Always use sunscreen. This prevents UV radiation from prematurely aging and damaging your skin. Don’t forget your sunglasses!

Reduce your exposure to environmental pollution. This might be difficult depending on where you live, but try to limit your exposure to industrial toxins and pollutants by eating more organic foods, wearing a mask in smoggy conditions, and not swimming in water that you aren’t sure is clean.

 

2. Eat more plant-based whole foods.
Fruits and vegetables are an excellent source of antioxidants, so consuming more of them is a great way to get rid of surplus free radicals. Some of the top sources of antioxidants are:

  • Berries, especially blueberries
  • Leafy greens, such as kale or spinach
  • Nuts, especially walnuts, pecans, and chestnuts [5]
  • Beans and legumes
  • Dark chocolate (yes, really!)
  • Green tea [7]

Spices such as turmeric and cinnamonAlso, avoid smoking and limit your consumption of alcohol and high-sugar processed foods, since they all introduce more free radicals into your body.

 

3. Make sure to get plenty of rest AND physical activity.
You already know that getting enough sleep is important, but did you know that sleep promotes higher antioxidant activity [8] ? Yet another reason to get those Z’s. Likewise, aside from its numerous other benefits, regular, but moderate, physical activity is also associated with higher antioxidant activity [9].

 

4. Choose high-antioxidant skincare products.
Your skin is your first defence against harmful factors in the external environment, so make sure that any skincare products you use bolster your skin’s defences. Look for products with natural plant oils such as shea butter or coconut oil. As well as promoting wound healing and helping to strengthen and repair the skin barrier, plant oils contain very high levels of free-radical-fighting antioxidants [10]. That’s why high-quality plant oils are the main ingredients in our skincare products.

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