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Antioxidants – How do I know that they are working?

April 6, 2012

After reading in Cosmetic Design Europe last night that marketing your cosmetics as containing antioxidants is a sure fire sales winner I had a thought,  is it enough to just slap a little green tea, pomegranate or grapeseed extract into your product, whack anti0xidant-rich into your marketing mix then sit back and watch the dollars roll in?  I wondered if a little more effort was needed?  I want to know if these things REALLY work and if they can, how can the ethical brand owner prove it.

So, before we go any further let’s recap on what an antioxidant is and how it works.

About Oxidation –  Reactive Oxygen Species such as the singlet oxygen, the superoxide, hydrogen peroxide and the hydroxyl radical are highly energetic chemical beings that can wreak havoc on your skin in some circumstances.   Oxidation type reactions happen constantly in our cells due  to the natural cycle of events, indeed some oxidative reactions are useful as a way of cleaning up dying, damaged or exhausted cells. This type of oxidation is known as intrinsic and in the absence of environmental factors its rate is predominantly determined by our genetics – this is why some people will visibly age quicker than others even with the same lifestyle. Our bodies have evolved to be able to manage this natural process and as such numerous biological ‘mops’  exist to help reduce the damage that oxidation can cause.  Some of these biological ‘mops’ are:  Coenzyme Q10, Tocopherol, allantoin and vitamin A – they all exist in our bodies and help our skin to clean up, repair and protect its self.

In order for these biological cleaners to be deployed a signal has to be sent out to enable the skin ‘mop’ to be unlocked from the closet.  Without going into too much detail these biological signalling molecules include the following: Superoxide dismutase (SOD) Catalase, Peroxidases, glutathione system, thioredoxin and Lipoamide system.  The efficiency and quantity of these signalling molecules are again determined by both intrinsic and extrinsic factors.   However, all being well when our skin comes under oxidative stress our signalling molecules ramp up their activity unlocking the ‘mop’ cupboard which kick-starts the cleaning process.   It is quite complex as with most biological processes everything happens in a cascading circle until the trigger is released and things return to normal (remember homeostasis) and that fact is, I believe important to remember…….

Oxidation reactions can also be induced by extrinsic factors such as excessive sun exposure, pollution, bad eating and drinking habits and other stresses. Generally speaking it is these external stresses that we seek to manage with our skin care products (as no skin cream can change our genetics as far as I am aware)  so this is what we will focus on in terms of efficacy testing.

About Active Delivery.

Skin care companies can rejoice somewhat when it comes to getting antioxidants through the difficult terrain that is the skin as generally speaking they don’t need to get far!   ‘Mops’ such as Coenzyme Q10,  Vitamin E and Allantoin are all found in the epidermis which means that slapping them straight onto the top stands a reasonably good chance of working.  This is in stark contrast to actives that claim to ‘lift’ or re-build the skin as these need to get right down to the dermal/ epidermal junction.

What we, as skin care creators are doing is delivering the skin with more mops with which to clean, the skin then takes over and puts them to work in the most efficient way.

About Proof.

So now to the nitty-gritty how can you prove that they work?  Well, as one of the most visible signs of oxidative stress can be induced in laboratory conditions in the form of UV light the sunscreen lab seems to be as good a place as any to start.   I found this study to be quite a useful example of how antioxidants can be proved to work when topically applied.  Basically this study applied two sunscreens to volunteers skin, one with an antioxidant blend and one without.   The skin was subjected to UV then four days later a punch biopsy was taken and stress markers were measured.  The sunscreen that contained antioxidants did result in lower levels of skin stress than the sunscreen without antioxidants and both sunscreens worked better than none under test conditions.

Visibly a trained eye may also be able to pick up differences in skin treated with antioxidants and skin without. It may appear less irritated and red, more hydrated and less puffy which sounds like a great set of features for any anti-ageing product.

Now not all brands will be able to fund this sort of research (this study was done for Estee Lauder and while I don’t know what it cost I would guess that a very basic study along these lines would be at least $10,000) but that’s OK.  Choosing antioxidants that have proven track records and using them at prescribed amounts in bases that are unlikely to cause irritation (they are well made (GMP), preserved (PET testing recommended) and contain fresh and legal base ingredients at recommended levels) will probably be enough to get you started. The rest you can collect from customer testimonials!

The Verdict.

I’ve just picked up one study out of hundreds that have managed to prove that antioxidants do help to protect the skin from everyday stresses such as the sun, environmental pollution and lack of sleep so yes, it would seem that antioxidants are not only useful they are vital to helping us stay looking and functioning younger for longer!  Our modern lifestyles full of junk food, polluted air, sun-exposed holidays and executive stress mean that our genetic abilities are being stretched to the limit so giving ourselves a helping hand makes quite a bit of sense. Also, the fact that we can get our skin-friendly antioxidants from a wide range of natural sources adds to the appeal so my advise is go slap on some antioxidant rich oils today and live the eternal youth dream!

If you do want to test your products I recommend these guys at APTF

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