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Antioxidants: Birchbox Breakdown

They’re trendy, tasty, and all over our product labels; but are we supposed to eat them or put them on our skin? We spoke to Dr. Leslie Baumann, creator of the Skin Type Solutions System and best-selling author, about the powerhouse ingredients called antioxidants.

What Are Antioxidants?

Simply put, antioxidants are substances that protect us against free radicals. These natural ingredients fight free radicals, which are the molecules that are commonly believed to cause all kinds of health problems. Dr .Baumann explains, “It’s an oxygen molecule that has been stripped of one of its electrons…meaning that it’s on the hunt for replacement electrons. As a result of that hunt, free radicals attack vital skin components like collagen, resulting in skin aging. Antioxidants calm free radicals by delivering the electrons they seek – and as a result, they also stave off free radicals’ aging effects.” Because they shield us from free radicals, antioxidants have been proven to help prevent heart disease and cancers, as well as sun damage, hyper pigmentation, and wrinkles.

Chances are, your skincare arsenal already has antioxidants, even if you didn’t realize it. Some common antioxidant-rich ingredients are: pomegranate, green tea, vitamins C and E, and argan oil.

Choosing The Right Antioxidants

It seems like every season, there’s a new ‘Most Powerful Antioxidant Ever’ on the market. Whether it’s an antioxidant-rich mainstream ingredient like Pomegranate, Acai, Argan Oil, or less marketable manufactured substances like Oxufullerane, antioxidants are all measured against each other in the ORAC Value database (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity, if you want to get technical). The database is researched and managed by the National Institute on Aging, which is part of the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Baumann says that instead of simply loading up on the high-ranking ingredients like Idebenone and Coffeeberry, it’s best to use many different kinds of antioxidants across your skin care, diet, and supplements.

And while useful, ORAC Value isn’t the only consideration. Different antioxidants have specific benefits for your skin. Dr. Baumann has her own personal favorites: “Vitamin C helps increase collagen so it’s good for aging and helps block tyrosinase, which contributes to melanin production. Feverfew is a strong anti-inflammatory, which means it’s great for rosacea types with wrinkles.”

Getting The Most Out of Them

Now that you know which antioxidants to look for, the hard part is done — right? Not quite. Dr. Baumann says you still have to make sure the ingredients are formulated correctly, which is trickier than you’d think. Dr. Baumann says, “The only way to know is to find someone you can trust to tell you.” Still, there are a few things you can look for. According to Baumann, “vitamin C topically only absorbs when in an acidic formulation like la Roche Posay or Skinceuticals.” Test out products with vitamin C and see if they tingle a bit. If yes, you’re in the clear; it’s an acidic formulation. In addition, Dr. Gross cautions that you should never leave the lid off of a product with vitamin C. It will react with the air and lose its antioxidant power. Green tea is another ingredient with a telltale sign of effectiveness. The antioxidants in green tea are called polyphenols and for the product to be effective, it must have 50 percent polyphenols. So how do you know when your product has enough? According to Baumann, the product will be brown. Also keep in mind, “You should not use any antioxidants at the same time as an Alpha Hydroxy Acid-based product because it will break down the antioxidant.”

Many skin creams tout their anti-aging benefits and antioxidant properties. Be a good consumer by looking for active ingredient lists on products and checking brand websites to see if they break down the antioxidant concentration. Finally, the best rule of thumb is to balance the level and variety of the antioxidants in your diet and skincare.

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