Oxidative Stress and What It Does to Your Skin

Oxidative stress is the outcome of free radicals (or lesser known nonradicals) getting into the skin and causing damage.

Free radicals are atoms or molecules that are missing an electron and therefore unstable as they search for an electron to steal from the other atoms and molecules around it. (When two free radicals share their unpaired electrons, a nonradical is created.) When a free radical successfully steals another electron from a neighboring molecule, that molecule becomes a free radical itself, setting off a chain reaction of cellular disruption in which cells can grow and reproduce abnormally. So the prevalence of free radicals in our skin causes damage which can lead to a variety of skin issues, like accelerated aging, acne and rosacea.

We get free radicals in our skin from things like sun exposure, airborne allergens, emotional stress, and poor diet. Antioxidants are our body’s natural defense against them. They neutralize free radical damage by offering up one of their own electrons, thereby helping to prevent and repair cell and tissue breakdown that can result in further damage and disease—everything from wrinkles to hyperpigmentation.

So oxidation is the scientific term for the loss of an electron from an atom or molecule, while oxidative stress is the total burden placed on organisms by the production of free radicals plus whatever other pressures the environment brings to bear.

Read about what antioxidants do to free radicals.