Oxidative stress is an important part of the biological aging process and plays a major role in skin aging. As we have touched on in previous articles, there are two major types of skin aging: intrinsic and extrinsic aging. These are both exacerbated by oxidative stress.
Of the two forms of skin aging, extrinsic aging is most driven by oxidative stress. Extrinsic aging refers to the aging of the outermost skin layer (the epidermis), normally caused by external factors such as UV radiation, environmental toxins, and diet.
What is Oxidative Stress?
Oxidative stress defines the phenomena of cellular stress, where the cell struggles to produce enough energy to maintain its structure and function. This stress is normally caused by an imbalance between the production of reactive oxygen species also known as free radicals and antioxidants. When the number of free radicals outweighs the antioxidant capacity of the cell, cellular energy production becomes impaired, resulting in cellular and tissue damage. 1
How Oxidative Stress Causes Skin Aging
Human skin consists of two primary layers: the epidermis (the outside layer) and the dermis (below). Both of these skin layers are attached to each other via the basal lamina. Skin aging can occur on both layers but gives a very different appearance depending on what layer is being considered.
For example, in the dermis layer of the skin, oxidative stress and damage can cause a disruption of the skin matrix. This causes a reduction of collagen, elastin, and hyaluronic acid, which can result in fine lines and wrinkles.
In regards to epidermal skin aging, oxidative stress can cause a variety of imbalances that contribute to aging. For example, oxidative stress can cause an influx of calcium leading to extensive cross-linking of proteins in the skin. This can lead to the over-formation of collagen, which can cause the skin tissue to become stiff, “calcified”, and fibrotic. 2
Additionally, oxidative stress and the overwhelming of the antioxidant system by free radicals can lead to chronic inflammation. This can cause collagen dysfunction and decreased skin cell function, which may lead to skin diseases including skin cancer. 3
Tips for Reducing Oxidative Stress
As complex as oxidative stress seems, preventing it is quite simple. In fact, there are a variety of daily things you can start doing to inhibit free radical damage and protect your skin.
Here are a few things to consider:
Increase Antioxidant Intake
Fortunately, the skin has its own natural defense mechanism to cope with free radicals. In fact, the epidermis skin tissue has a high concentration of antioxidants. However, over time, aging and stress can decrease the skin’s accumulation of antioxidants, making it more susceptible to damage.
This is why it is important to not only avoid exposure to free radicals but also provide the skin supplemental antioxidants via diet. Some of our favorite, skin-protecting antioxidants are substances like CoQ10, vitamin A (retinol), vitamin E, vitamin C, and zinc, just to name a few. Most of these nutrients can be found as staple ingredients in our products, which feed the skin from the outside. 4.
Avoid Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids
Of the many sources of free radicals, our modern diet is amongst the top offenders. Most modern foods are riddled with various reactive substances that increase the production of free radicals in the body. Some of the worst include oils like canola and soybean, which are rich in harmful polyunsaturated fatty acids.
For example, consuming a lot of polyunsaturated rich foods (fish oil, canola oil, peanut oil, soybean oil, etc) can increase the accumulation of arachidonic acid in the skin. This leads to inflammatory skin diseases like psoriasis, atopic dermatitis, and eventually aging. We suggest reading this post for tips on what fats to avoid and which ones to consume for healthy skin. 5, 6
Reduce Iron Intake
There is a lot of confusion around the roles and requirements of dietary iron. But the fact of the matter is, iron is a very reactive heavy metal. It can increase the rate of lipid peroxidation and deplete the antioxidant capacity of the body.
For example, iron destroys vitamin E, which is one of the most protective antioxidants that the body produces. The general oxidative effects of iron, combined with its destructive effects on antioxidants makes it a major contributing factor to oxidative stress. Therefore, we suggest avoiding consuming too much iron.
You can reduce iron by not taking supplements with iron and not cooking with cast iron. Another tip is to drink coffee whenever you consume iron-rich meals like beef, oysters, lamb – this is because coffee can reduce iron absorption. You can also supplement Revitalize, which contains He Shou Wu, which is rich copper and zinc. Both copper and zinc will help to regulate iron and prevent it from causing any oxidative damage to the skin.
If you wish to preserve the youthfulness and health of your skin, combating and preventing oxidative stress is one of the most important things you can do. Oxidative stress impairs our cells’ ability to produce energy. Without energy, the cells that make up every tissue in our body become weak, damaged, and eventually atrophy. The good news is that simple dietary shifts can help to dramatically reduce oxidative stress and increase the body’s resilience to it, ensuring healthy and strong skin on a cellular level.
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