Medically reviewed by Minimalist Health Specialist -  Written by Rithi Choudhury (Journalist)  on 21st Sep 2020

Oxidative Stress - Major Culprit Of Premature Skin Ageing

Major Culprit Of Premature Skin Ageing

WWhy do you think the presence of antioxidants is hyped in skincare and overall health? If you've guessed that antioxidants contribute to anti-aging, you are partly correct. Honestly, you cannot stop the biological cycle of your body and prevent natural aging. However, environmental stresses like oxidative stress accelerate the aging process and lead to wrinkles and other aging signs prematurely. Your 30s are not necessarily a time for wrinkles to start showing, but oxidative stress could be the culprit if you do have them. 

Decoding Oxidative Stress 101

Our body produces free radicals as part of its metabolism. These free radicals initiate a chain of chemical reactions (oxidation), which can help fight infections and germs. But an excess of these free radicals can have adverse effects like cellular damage, premature aging, cardiovascular diseases, and even cancer. These free radicals are unpaired (free electrons) and unstable, so they try to take electrons from the cells. As a result, they alter the DNA, damage proteins, fatty tissue, and thus stimulate cellular damage.

Free radicals also enter the body through smoke (cigarettes), pollution, exposure to radiation, certain chemicals, ozone, etc. 

Adverse Effects Of Oxidative Stress 

Oxidative stress can be linked to several diseases which include:

  • Skin Ageing Prematurely: Oxidative Stress damages collagen and elastin, the protein fibers responsible for skin plumpness and elasticity. As a result, skin starts to look saggy, develops hyperpigmentation, and forms wrinkles and fine lines quite early. 
  • Cardiovascular Ailments: Oxidative stress triggers the risk of cardiovascular ailments like heart failure, stroke, high blood pressure and atherosclerosis (hardening of blood vessels).
  • Respiratory Disease: Respiratory diseases like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are also linked to oxidative stress since oxidants are known to enhance air-ways inflammation. 
  • Diabetes: Oxidative stress also plays a role in diabetes complications - both microvascular (relating to smaller blood vessels and capillaries) and cardiovascular (relating to the heart). 
  • Neurological Disease: Neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, multiple sclerosis, dementia (memory loss), depression etc. are also partly linked to oxidative stress, as it plays a significant role in neuron loss and degeneration. 
  • Cancer: Oxidative stress can alter the DNA sequence and can consequently contribute to tumor onset. 
  • Chronic Inflammation: Our immune system fights off diseases through immune cells called macrophages, which produce free radicals in the process. These free radicals, along with destroying pathogens, also kill healthy cells, leading to inflammation. This inflammation is temporary and goes away after the pathogen is eliminated. But oxidative stress triggers the inflammatory response, which in turn produces more and more free radicals. This chronic inflammation leads to cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and arthritis. 
  • Kidney Disease: Oxidative stress is also involved in the inflammation of kidney tissues, which over time leads to the formation of abundant fibrotic tissue that impairs organ function and leads to renal failure.
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis: Rheumatoid arthritis is a condition where joints and surrounding tissues are inflamed. Oxidative stress plays a role in both the initiation and progression of the disease. 

How To Reduce Oxidative Stress

Although the damage caused by oxidative stress cannot be undone, there are several ways through which the impact of oxidative stress can be reduced and mitigated:

  • Quit Smoking: Tobacco smoke contains compounds that are toxic and induce oxidative reactions in the body, which damages the lungs, leads to tumor formation, inflames airways, etc. 
  • Reduce Alcohol Intake: Excessive alcohol consumption promotes cellular alterations associated with inflammatory processes that eventually lead to cell death or cell cycle arrest.
  • A Balanced Diet Rich In Antioxidants: Eating a lot of junk food will produce many more free radicals and subsequent health disorders. A balanced diet rich in proteins and essential vitamins, minerals, and lots of antioxidants will not only nourish the body but also help repair the cellular damage to an extent.
  • Cutting Down Sugary And Processed Food: A diet high in sugar and processed foods, which again contains a lot of hidden sugar, fuels the oxidative stress. A diet too high in sugar reduces our cells' response to insulin (insulin resistance), and as a result, our body is left with extra glucose, which produces a lot of free radicals. 
  • Avoiding Pollution Exposure: Prevention is always better than cure. Pollution from industries, fumes from vehicles are all responsible for contributing to the increased number of free radicals in the body. Therefore one must avoid indirect exposure to the fumes as much as possible. Wear a protective face mask.
  • Protection From UV rays: UV rays generate reactive oxygen species (ROS) that creates an antioxidant imbalance. Thus always apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen without fail, be it rain or shine. 
  • Regular Exercise: Regular exercise will keep obesity at bay. Obesity means an excess of fat in the body. This visceral fat generates a high amount of reactive oxygen species (ROS), leading to oxidative stress. 
  • Healthy Sleep Cycle: When you read in any health article that 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep is essential, you must take it seriously. Our body repairs itself while we are asleep—insufficient sleep results in a plethora of diseases like depression, weak immune system, heart diseases, etc. 

Antioxidants To The Rescue 

Our body produces antioxidants- molecules that scavenge these free radicals by binding to them and therefore neutralizing their impact. While they donate their electrons to the free radical, they remain stable.

Antioxidants can also be supplied to the body through diet. 

Imbalance Of Free Radicals And Antioxidants

An imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants in the body is termed 'oxidative stress.' As mentioned above, a balanced ratio of free radicals helps the body fight disease-causing pathogens. But an overdose of antioxidants will neutralize this ability of the free radicals. Not having an excess of free radicals is a good thing as it leads to several chronic and life-threatening diseases. 

Benefits Of Antioxidants For Skin 

Anti-aging: Since antioxidants scavenge collagen to destroy free radicals, it helps keep premature wrinkles and fine lines at bay. Antioxidants like retinoids (derivatives of Vitamin A) help fight environmental aggressors that cause premature aging, promote cellular turnover, and repair wrinkles.

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Repairs Skin: Antioxidants help repair the cellular damage caused by oxidative stress upto an extent by reducing inflammation. Antioxidants like Vitamin C help stimulate collagen production and Vitamin E protects the skin barrier. 

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Brightens Skin: Free radicals can trigger melanin production that leads to hyperpigmentation. Since antioxidants neutralize these free radicals, the chances of hyperpigmentation are significantly reduced. Antioxidants like Vitamin C and Kojic Acid inhibit tyrosinase (enzyme responsible for the production of melanin) activity and reduce dark spots and uneven skin tone.

Prevents Sun damage: Sun rays during peak hours induce several skin havocs like aging, spots, sunburn, etc. Antioxidants being anti-inflammatory, help reduce redness, repair skin cells, and also promote the growth of new cells. Vitamin B3 (niacin) is a powerful antioxidant that reduces inflammation, repairs, and regenerates the skin. 

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Prevents Cancer: Antioxidants like Vitamin A, C and E have anti-carcinogenic properties and may help prevent skin cancer.

Bottom Line

While a topical application of antioxidants aids skin repair in its health externally, it is of utmost importance to include antioxidants in the diet to repair and protect the body from within. Also, antioxidants like Vitamin C, Retinol, Kojic Acid should ideally be applied at night time to aid in the skin repair process. Since new skin cells appear following their cell turnover activity, sunscreen should be strictly worn the following day as the newly revealed skin cells are susceptible to sun damage.