Free radicals & the roll of antioxidants

‘Free radicals’

The suns UV rays initiate the release of free radicals both on and in the subsurface of our skin

Free radicals attack cell membranes and cause damage to lipids, protein and DNA.

They cause the oxidation of unsaturated fats of cell membranes, produce lipid peroxides, which interfere with the structure and function of biological membranes.

Normally the body can handle free radicals, when sufficient antioxidants are available. These are normally supplied to the body through our diet.

However, when antioxidants are unavailable, (this will depend to a large extent on the kind of food we eat), or free radical production becomes excessive, (such as when we are overexposed to UV rays) the body will be unable to deal with all of the free radicals released.

Free radical damage can result in many skin disorders, these include premature ageing of the skin and is also linked to skin cancer.


Since the advent of the package holiday, the desire to have a tanned skin and to some extent the depletion of the ozone layer, our skin has a greater exposure to the suns rays. The sun initiates the release of free radicals, free radicals cause oxidation which damages cell membranes, antioxidants counteract this reaction.

Antioxidants remove or neutralise free radicals and therefore prevent the damage they may cause.

The most common natural antioxidants found in the body are Vitamin E, Carotenoids and Vitamin C.

The epidermis (the outermost layer of the skin) requires a higher antioxidant activity than the dermis (the inner layer of the skin) because the epidermis is directly exposed to the elements and in particular solar radiation.

There are two reasons why we should consider boosting our levels of these antioxidants to provide extra protection against solar radiation.

Firstly, our diet may not provide sufficient quantities of antioxidants, particularly when we anticipate being in the sun for longer periods of time, like on holiday.
Secondly, particularly in mature skin, perspiration levels and oil secretion gradually reduce as we get older. Both the epidermis and the dermis will have lower levels of antioxidants as a result.

Supplementing our store of antioxidants will be an advantage.

There are two easy ways to supplement our store of these antioxidants:-

Oral supplementation -
By an intake of the recommended RDA dose.
Taking these supplements two weeks before a
holiday will help build up your resources.

Topical application -
The skin is in direct contact with the sun and will
be pounded by its rays. The epidermis is the first
line of defense and topical application will enrich
the skins surface. Continue to use lotions or creams
after exposure to the sun, this will help to repair
damage and rebuild your resource levels.

Important note:
‘Antioxidants’ are not to be confused with ‘sunscreens’. Antioxidants do not block the sun’s rays.

They are one constituent part of a system in the defense against the harmful effects of
solar radiation.