Free Radicals: What Are They and Why Are They Bad for Your Skin?

By: | by L'Oréal
Free Radicals: What Are They and Why Are They Bad for Your Skin?

Here at, we love to think that we have all the answers for you. However, there are certain issues that require the insight of a pro. Today, we asked Boston-based dermatologistDr. Emmy Graber to explain a skin care issue that is especially difficult to grasp: free radicals. Are they as scary as they sound?

Absolutely everything in the world, from human beings to the air around us, is made of molecules. Molecules are made of atoms and atoms are made of pairs of electrons. But when an atom is missing an electron, that’s when we talk of free radicals.

Free radicals can damage the skin by trying to grab an extra electron from atoms in the skin. When atoms are taken away from molecules in the skin, it causes damage to our skin’s DNA that can speed along skin aging. This is called the "free radical theory of aging."

This little science lesson probably raises the question: And what does this mean for me and my skin? Here's a guide on how to better understand how free radicals work and how you can keep them from affecting your complexion.

Where Are Free Radicals?

Free radicals can be created from pollution such as smog, dust and cigarette smoke, as well as our good friend the sun.

What Does Free Radical Damage Look Like?

Skin damage done by free radicals may appear in several forms. They range from changes in skin color (brown spots and broken blood vessels) to weakened skin that looks loose and saggy as a result of damaged elastic fibers. Free radicals can also break down the skin’s collagen and create wrinkles.

How Can I Stop Free Radicals From Harming My Skin?

Your answer to free radicals are antioxidants! They are compounds that can donate an electron to a free radical so that the free radical doesn’t have to take the electron from the skin’s atoms.

Antioxidants include vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin E and can be consumed via food and liquids (such as tomatoes, grapes and green tea) or applied topically. There’s a wide variety of creams, serums and lotions on the market containing antioxidants to help you fight skin damage.

Product Recommendations: Skinceuticals C E Ferulic Acid; Garnier SkinActive Moisture Bomb; and Lancôme Advanced Génifique Sensitive Serum.



How do you fight free-radical damage? Tell us your secrets in the comments below!

Photo: iStock

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