I have heard a lot in the news about antioxidants and free radicals. What are they and how do they affect my skin’s health?

Aside from one’s genetics and the skin sagging that naturally occurs with age, much of what is considered skin aging is really a result of exposure to pollutants and sunlight over time. Skin exposed to sun and toxins is damaged by unstable chemicals called free radicals. Antioxidants come to the rescue of skin ravaged by free radicals. Vitamins A, C, and E; green tea extract; and beta-carotene are antioxidants used in cosmetic products that are putting up a fight against wrinkle-causing free radicals.

It is believed that antioxidants stop potential damage before it occurs by interacting with free radicals as they penetrate through skin layers. Their role is prevention rather than repair of skin damage. Free radicals attack the lipids in skin which normally provide protection against moisture loss. Skin appears to age prematurely because of the resulting dryness and loss of elasticity. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals before they can break down lipids, and help protect skin from environmental agents, such as sun exposure, pollution and stress. Skin stays naturally hydrated and smooth with topical use of antioxidant-containing products.

Exfoliating and Peeling – Does your skin know the difference?

These two words may be cause for confusion. Exfoliation and peel are both processes for the removal of skin cells responsible for wrinkling. However, both have unique advantages and different results on skin. To understand the differences between these two antiwrinkle techniques, it is helpful to know how skin is structured.

Basically, skin is composed of two primary layers - the outer epidermis and the underlying dermis - each of which is made up of secondary layers. The layers of the dermis are a thriving network of connective fibers, blood vessels, proteins, fat cells, oil and sweat glands, and nerve endings that give skin its elasticity, strength, and sensory qualities. The epidermis is a layered series of skin cells that push their way to the top in a natural process known as desquamation. As dead skin cells reach the outermost layer of the epidermis, they shed naturally.

Shedding of the epidermis can be helped along by exfoliating or by peeling. The difference is in how deep the layers of skin cells are removed. Exfoliation can be done at home using products such as low-strength alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) that cause the topmost skin cells to slough off. Peels remove deeper layers of skin and are applied in a dermatology office. Peels may be performed using AHA applications, but these are in much higher strengths than what is used at home. Often an in-office application of a glycolic acid peel is followed up with daily exfoliation at home to continue the effects of the peel.

Daily exfoliating at home is a simple and convenient way to remove the buildup of dead skin cells that lead to fine wrinkling on the face. An in-office peel is appropriate for diminishing more noticeable skin wrinkles. Both processes give skin a refreshing glow that looks healthy on any face.

Does what I eat affect the health of my skin?

Skin is the largest organ of the body. And being so outwardly visible, skin is usually an accurate reflection of what goes on inside. Yes, the types and amounts of food you eat, ultimately show on your face.

For good skin tone and texture, it is important to follow a balanced diet. Here are some good nutrition practices that can help you maintain or improve your skin’s health.

Limit fat intake, especially saturated fats. This heart health habit helps keep the blood pumping efficiently to the skin where essential nutrients are delivered.

Eat up to ten nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables per day to provide non-fat, low calorie energy, plus essential vitamins, including the wrinkle fighting antioxidants vitamins C and E. Add fiber through whole-grain foods, starches, fruits, and vegetables to regulate the digestive system for efficient distribution of nutrients to your skin and all other organs. Avoid excessive salt to ward off hypertension and the resulting stress on the heart and circulatory system which, in turn, can diminish the blood supply to the skin. Drink the equivalent of eight glasses of water daily (juices, milk, fruit, and vegetables supply much of this amount) to cleanse away toxins, and maximize the efficiency of body functions, including skin hydration. Moderate the intake of alcohol, coffee, tea and cola to prevent an unnecessary loss of water caused by the diuretic effect of theses fluids. Adequate hydration helps prevent skin dryness, flaking and scaling.

Where can I find more Information?

For more information, contact:

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases Clearinghouse

301.495.4484

National Cancer Institute

1.800.4.CANCER (1.800.422.6237)

Food and Drug Administration

1.888.463.6332

The American Academy of Dermatology

1.888.462.3376

National Institute on Aging (NIA) Information Center

1.800.222.2225 or 1.800.222.2225(TTY).

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