Free Radicals & Antioxidants explained!


Some of you may have heard this terminology, some of you may have not. When I’m in skincare consultations I try to educate my clients as much as possible, I believe that knowledge is power and if my clients understand why I’m recommending a treatment or product they will trust my judgement more than just accepting what I suggest. Free Radicals and Antioxidants can be a bit of a grey area however. It’s quite difficult to explain without getting too technical and I can sometimes see my clients start to glaze over so I thought I’d write this post to try to explain it without the jargon!

Everyday our skin is damaged by environmental and lifestyle factors which create free radicals within the skin, also known as oxidative stress. Try this science experiment at home – bite into an apple and leave it out…does it go brown? Eureka! You have witnessed oxidisation. Here’s one I made earlier…The side of the apple that looks normal has been treated with a few drops of antioxidant, whereas the brown side was not treated. Antioxidants are key to keeping the skin healthy. I would always couple it with a broad-spectrum SPF every single day that covers UVA & UVB rays and is at least an SPF 30…having an SPF in your make up is not enough!!


Free Radicals:

What are they? – Free radicals are unstable molecules. They try to capture electrons from other molecules to gain stability by attacking the nearest stable molecule to steal its electron. The attacked molecule then becomes a free radical itself starting a chain reaction. Once the process has started it continues until it can kill living cells!

Causes – The most common cause of free radicals is from UV (Ultra Violet) rays from the sun, even in England up to 80% of these damaging rays penetrate through clouds! Other factors include air pollution, smoking, alcohol, sleep deprivation, stress, illness, poor diet, even our phone & laptop screens can cause damage so there is little escape!


What are they? – Antioxidants work by donating electrons to the unstable free radical molecules, neutralising them and therefore stopping the chain reaction of destruction. Yay Antioxidants!

Sources – These wonderful little things are derived most commonly from our good friend’s fruit & vegetables, no surprise there! Another reason to be eating your 5-a-day (or 10-a-day)!

So, what are the best antioxidants to be looking out for in your skincare products?

Vitamin E (tocopherol) – One of the most commonly known antioxidants, commonly found in a lot of sunscreens as it’s especially good at preventing free radical damage from UV rays

Vitamin C (L-Ascorbic acid) – A key antioxidant to look out for if you want to slow down ageing, brighten and even out the skin tone. The most common percentages being between 10%-20%

Horse chestnut seed extract – This is not as well-known; however, it is a very potent antioxidant. A 1995 Japanese study included horse chestnut extracts when reviewing the antioxidant ability of numerous plant extracts. When compared with Vitamin C results showed that horse chestnut extract was almost 20 times more effective at stabilising certain free radicals, as well as having anti-inflammatory properties! Link to study –

Vitamin A (retinol) – I talk about retinol a lot, it is the absolute #1 treatment for anti-ageing and to help clients suffering with acne as it accelerates cell turnover

Green tea – Great for sensitive skins, has very good anti-inflammatory properties which will help reduce redness

There are many more, but I’ve found these ones have proven very effective for my clients. A combination of antioxidants is ideal, however the more antioxidants, the higher the cost.

What shall I use?

As always, cosmeceutical grade products will give superior results, especially with antioxidants. If they aren’t encapsulated in the correct way they can oxidise very easily, make sure you do your research! If you are buying cheap products from the high street, even if they claim to have these ingredients in they are not necessarily enough to have any active effect on the skin. There are a vast number of products on the market but here are a few that I would recommend as they have been tried and tested by myself:

  • Obagi Vitamin C serum 10% (does increase to 15% & 20%) RRP £56
  • ZENii Antioxidant power serum (as pictured above with the apples) – My current Antioxidant and I love it! It’s a very high strength concoction of Vitamin C, Niacinamide, Vitamin E & Ferulic Acid with an of RRP £85
  • CE Ferulic by SkinCeuticals – This is quite a well-known antioxidant and very good quality as SkinCeuticals is a brand built around the avoidance of sun damage & skin cancer. With high potency also comes a high price however as this product carries an RRP of £129!
  • Perk Antioxidant Power Serum – I may be a little biased about Perk as I work for the company but if price is an issue then this could be a great option. With Perk the 1st application is done for you professionally in clinic, so you get a mini exfoliating facial with a months’ worth of antioxidant included with ingredients including Vitamin A, Vitamin E & Horse chestnut seed extract and has an RRP of £50-£70 depending on provider
  • Daily Power Defence by Zein Obagi – I completely adore this product, it has a little bit of everything good from the Zein Obagi range including Vitamin A & Vitamin E. I used to use this everyday but in all honesty the price strain became too much for me as the RRP has now increased to £115. If you have the money to invest in your skincare though I would highly recommend this product as it gives amazing results and it great for any skin concern

Finding what’s right for you

As always if you are confused at what products are right for you, find a local aesthetic clinic to have a consultation at and get some advice! Don’t be tempted to buy these products on the internet either as you don’t know what you’re buying, if you’re seeing the products listed above at far lower than the RRP then they are almost definitely not going to be the real deal.

If you have any questions or would like any suggestions on clinics in your area feel free to contact me.

Thank you for reading



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