Antioxidants are natural substances that have significant health benefits, preventing or delaying certain types of cell damage throughout the body. Including antioxidants in the diet can help keep a person healthy, and protect against damaging free radicals; including antioxidants in skin products can increase the skin's collagen production, smooth wrinkles and fade age spots.
Whether used as treatments or preventatives, antioxidants may:
Antioxidants are found in many foods, including fruits and vegetables. They are also available as dietary supplements.
Certain types of antioxidant supplements may be doctor-recommended in order to help treat various skin conditions. A doctor may also recommend dietary changes to assist in a patient's antioxidant intake. Some of the most commonly prescribed antioxidants and their skin health benefits are discussed below.
Vitamin E supplements help prevent premature aging and reduce susceptibility to sunburns from exposure to UVB radiation. This does not mean that taking vitamin E orally and applying it topically are adequate substitutes for sunscreen; however, doing so can help the skin stay healthier and more supple.
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is key to the production of collagen, a protein that aids in the growth of skin cells, and helps give skin its firmness. Vitamin C also helps to heal wounds by stimulating scar-tissue formation, which helps the skin to repair itself.
Almost all B vitamins, including B1, B2, B6, B5, B7 and B12, are needed for the growth of superficial layers of skin. Deficiency of B vitamins can lead to several skin conditions, including dandruff, dry and scaly skin, dermatitis, and premature signs of aging. Vitamin B6 is frequently prescribed for the treatment of acne, psoriasis, seborrheic dermatitis and skin lesions.
Flavonoids are naturally occurring phytochemicals found in plant-based foods such as green tea and chocolate. Flavonoids are often touted for their antiaging benefits, and their ability to absorb UV light and assist in cell turnover.
Coenzyme Q10, also known as CoQ10 or ubiquinone, is one of the most promising antioxidants. It has been touted as a beneficial supplement for treating a variety of health conditions, including heart disease, gum disease, and Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. It has also been used to increase fertility and treat high blood pressure. Dermatologically, CoQ10 has been touted for its powerful antiaging and skin-improving benefits.
Lycopene is a naturally occurring type of carotenoid found in fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, pink grapefruit, watermelons and papaya. As an antioxidant, lycopene prevents free radicals from stimulating the bone loss that naturally occurs with aging. It has been shown to promote collagen production and smoother skin. Preliminary research also suggests that lycopene provides some level of UV protection and reduces the risk of skin cancer.
Beta-carotene is part of the group of red, orange and yellow antioxidants known as carotenoids. Beta-carotene and other carotenoids provide approximately half of the vitamin A needed in the diet. Beta-carotene occurs naturally in many fruits, vegetables and whole grains. It is recommended for treating sun sensitivity in patients who have the blood disorder erythropoietic protoporphyria, and for preventing certain skin disorders, including psoriasis and vitiligo.
Antioxidants should be prescribed in consultation with the doctor. Certain antioxidants, if ingested in high doses or in combination with certain medications, may result in overdose and/or adverse side effects.
Although antioxidants are widely used to prevent cancer from developing, they can interfere with cancer treatments. Antioxidant supplements can also affect insulin sensitivity in diabetic or obese patients, and interfere with prescribed physical exercise. In those cases, antioxidant supplements should be administered under careful supervision of a doctor.
In some cases, high-doses of antioxidants are linked to health risks. For example, high doses of beta-carotene may increase the risk of lung cancer in smokers, and high doses of vitamin E may increase the risk of prostate cancer or stroke.