The dream of healthy, glowing skin is a popular one and the food you choose to eat can play an important role in nourishing your skin. Carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants all play a role in looking after your skin.
In this blog, you’ll focus on the role of antioxidants, including what they are, how they support skin health and where they can be found.
What are antioxidants?
Antioxidants are molecules that help fight off oxidative damage caused by free radicals. Destructive in their nature, free radicals are compounds we cannot escape. We’re surrounded by them. They can come from pollution and sunlight, and they can even be produced during the metabolism of food. Oxidative damage is a process that can damage proteins (including DNA) within the body. This can lead to inflammation, aging of the skin and in some instances can contribute towards cancer.
As mentioned, antioxidants help defend against free radicals. The reason that free radicals are harmful is that they’re missing an electron, and the reason that antioxidants can fight off free radicals is that they have a spare electron. Therefore, the antioxidant donates its spare electron to the free radical in order to restore peace. This helps to reduce the risk of oxidative damage and subsequent damage to cells and skin.
Where can antioxidants be found?
Antioxidants can be found in numerous foods, which is why a healthy, balanced diet containing a variety of different foods is important to good health. Fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, nuts, seeds, fish and meat can all contain different antioxidants.
In fact, there are hundreds (maybe even thousands) of antioxidants. Some you might not have heard of before, such as anthocyanins. Others you’ll be more familiar with, such as selenium and vitamins C and E. Below you’ll learn about the role of these latter three antioxidants in skin health, including which foods you can find them in.
As an antioxidant, this skin friendly mineral helps to protect against oxidative damage caused by UV rays (from sunlight) (1).
One of the richest sources of selenium includes Brazil nuts, with just 2-3 Brazil nuts offering the daily recommendation (2). Other sources include cashews, sunflower seeds, lentils, brown rice, wholewheat bread, eggs, poultry, fish and shellfish.
Not only is vitamin C an antioxidant that helps prevent oxidative damage, but it also helps produce collagen. Collagen is an important structural protein found in the skin. After age 20, it’s thought that collagen levels start to naturally decline at around a rate of 1% each year (2,3).
Whilst collagen supplements are popular, especially amongst women at perimenopause and menopause, very little evidence exists to support their role in aiding skin health.
Rather than reaching for supplements to support your collagen production, ensure you’re consuming vitamin C daily. Foods containing vitamin C include citrus fruits, berries, broccoli, peppers and white potatoes.
Given it’s role as an antioxidant, vitamin E helps protect the skin and body against oxidative damage. This helps to slow down the rate at which skin ages, as well as potentially reducing the risk of skin cancer (2,4).
As a fat-soluble vitamin, vitamin E can only be absorbed when there’s fat included in the diet. Some sources of vitamin E have fat naturally present. For example, avocados, rapeseed oil, sunflower oil, olive oil and nuts and seeds.
Antioxidants play an important part in looking after healthy skin, by reducing the risk of oxidative damage caused by free radicals. Selenium and vitamins C and E are just a few of the hundreds or thousands of antioxidants that exist, and can easily be consumed through a healthy, balanced diet.
R. Lambert (2021) The Science of Nutrition: Debunk the diet myths and learn how to eat well for health and happiness (London UK, Darling Kindersley Limited)