If you're up to date on your skincare knowledge, you may have heard of the term 'oxidative stress' especially in the past year. A result of 'free-radical damage' oxidative stress is caused by our environment - whether that is self-induced lifestyle factors or external aggressors such as pollution and UV - and it is now thought to be one of the biggest causes of premature ageing. So what causes oxidative stress and how can you prevent it from ruining your skin?
What is oxidative stress?
"To put it simply, oxidative stress occurs when there is an imbalance between free-radicals and antioxidants in your body," explains in-house pharmacist at Victoria Health, Shabir Daya. "Free-radicals are essentially by-products of a metabolic process in our body carried out by our cells. These by-products - or molecules - can cause damage by bonding themselves to healthy cells that the body needs and breaking them down," he adds.
What causes oxidative stress?
The first step in lowering your levels of oxidative stress is knowing exactly what contributes to it. As Daya explains, "there are many factors that contribute to excess free radical overload which in turn leads to oxidative stress, including pollution, exposure to UV rays or a sugar and fat laden diet and unhealthy lifestyle."
How does oxidative stress on your skin?
"Over production of free-radicals damages healthy cells in the body. This, in turn, causes inflammation. Inflammation limits the production of skin plumping collagen, elastin and hyaluronic acid in the dermal layer (deeper layer) of the skin, resulting in fine lines and wrinkles," says Daya.
Furthermore, this inflammation can lead to a breakdown of the ceramide layer between cells that shields skin from water loss, leading to dehydration and crepeyness, a common complaint in winter when the continuous contrast between cold weather and indoor central heating can exacerbate dryness.
Eliminating oxidative stress is impossible with the daily assault of UV, pollution and stress that many of us are exposed to, but there are some simple ways to limit its wrath and protect your skin from prematurely ageing.
Tweak your diet
"There is a vital mechanism in the cells in our bodies that turn sugars, fats and proteins into energy stores to keep our bodies functioning. Free-radicals are a by-product of this energy production. So, the more sugar you eat, the more free radicals are produced, making our antioxidants outnumbered and less effective at protecting our skin-plumping collagen and elastin stores," says Amanda Griggs Nutritionist at The Khera-Griggs Cleanse Clinic located at Urban Retreat.
The obvious answer to losing collagen is to eat less sugar, but Griggs also recommends eating products that are rich in anti-inflammatory properties and phytonutrients (found in plant-based foods) to help restore the balance of antioxidants in our bodies which will, in turn, protect skin cells. Griggs also suggests that a high intake of colourful fruits and vegetables that are rich in vitamins such as Vitamin A, E and C will help to protect against free radical damage and oxidative stress.
Up your defense against pollution
By now, most of us know that pollution wreaks havoc on our health and the appearance of our skin. Not only does it block our pores, but it also increases the levels of free radicals in our skin. As a result, our skin's protective barrier is weakened and our youth-boosting collagen and elastin stores are compromised leading to dull, dry skin and breakouts.
If you live in an urban environment, it can seem impossible to avoid to these aggressors, but there are certain steps you can take to lower your level of exposure to pollutants that age your skin and cause breakouts, such as avoiding smoking and second-hand smoke and reducing the amount of trips you take in your car per day. Investing in a good air purifier such as Dyson's Pure Hot + Cool can clear some of the pollutants in your home that linger in the air. Plus, wearing a sunscreen with high levels of UVA will help.
Invest in the right skincare
Similar to your diet, Daya suggests that specific topical products can help to neutralise free radicals and reduce the impact of oxidative stress and skin ageing.
Vitamin C is commonly recognised by dermatologists as a potent antioxidant known to neutralise free radicals and is also vital for collagen and elastin production while brightening a lacklustre complexion and minimising pigmentation caused by UV exposure.
Products that contain natural plant based antioxidants also work to inhibit free radicals attaching and breaking down healthy cells. These are our top three skincare recommendations for beating oxidative stress.
3 skin heroes for oxidative stress
Try Garden of Wisdom's Vitamin C Serum 23% + Ferulic Acid. It's high concentration of vitamin C protects the skin from free radical damage caused by UV exposure, whilst ferulic acid works as a powerful antioxidant that preserves the vitamin C and also helps to strengthen the skin, thus reducing the production of fine lines and wrinkles.
For a super-charged hydrator that's serious about protecting the skin, opt for Allies of Skin's hyaluronic-rich day cream. Not only does it provide the skin with intense hydration, it is packed with 10 different antioxidant extracts, including green tea leaf extract, to combat free radical damage and wrinkling.
Cleansing is one of the key steps in removing dirt and pollutants that are resting on the skin's surface and settling in your pores. Dermalogica's cult Daily Superfoliant lifts off the day's grime. Activated with water, this powerful powder formula forms a charcoal paste to draw out impurities in the skin, whilst red algae helps to shield the skin from the damaging effects of pollution that cause ageing.