‘All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.’
— Charles Schultz
We’ve got good news! That bite of chocolate you were feeling guilty about? Your skin thanks you for it. #TrueStory
Cocoa, the key ingredient in chocolates, is rich in a compound called flavonoids, which prevent UV rays from filtering into your skin and causing sun damage. And, as certain studies suggest, coffee and dark chocolate are the most significant sources of antioxidants in a typical Western diet.
But what are these antioxidants we keep talking about, and asking you to eat, drink or apply?
By definition, an antioxidant is a compound that inhibits oxidation, or removes potentially-damaging, oxidizing agents from a living organism.
What are Free Radicals?
Your body is a giant, complex machine, wherein multiple processes are taking place simultaneously. These metabolic processes lead to the creation of certain particles in the body, called free radicals. While some of these particles are critical for our immunity, fighting against infections and microorganisms, most of them are waste particles. As the name suggests, free radicals float freely, ready to react with your cells, oxidizing them. Something like-charged ions—think static when you pull on that wool jumper, and your hair gets all charged!
Free radicals aren’t just produced by internal processes. They are also produced by our body’s interaction with the environment. For example, when our skin meets the sun’s UV rays, or dirt, grime and pollution, free radicals are created in the epidermis. These, when left unchecked, cause skin damage and accelerate the ageing process, as indeed they do for our internal organs, too. Free radicals also cause inflammation in the body and have been found to be the chief culprits behind degenerative diseases as well as cancers.
The fantastic thing about our bodies is, our natural processes tend to balance each other out. So when our metabolic processes produce free radicals, they also produce a certain amount of antioxidants—the term is literally a blanket, collective name for a huge variety of compounds that have the ability to prevent oxidation—to neutralize the free radicals, fight off inflammation and disease, and reverse the damage. However, on its own, our body is only able to produce enough antioxidants to fight off a certain number of free radicals. The rest begin to oxidize our cells and create what is called oxidative stress.
Understanding Oxidative Stress
Oxidative stress causes our tissues to breakdown. In our skin, that’s the collagen and elastin that’s breaking down, making our skin weaker, and therefore, more prone to fine lines, sagging and wrinkles. It also messes with our melanin production, creating hyperpigmentation, dark spots and uneven skin tone. Kind of like a leaky battery that’s causing the machine to malfunction. Basically, our bodies hadn’t accounted for the number of free radicals they’re having to deal with!
The amount of free radicals and antioxidants synthesized by the body is a function of our lifestyle: The amount of time we spend in the sun or inhaling polluted air, how much water we drink, how much sleep we get, the quality of sleep we get, what kind of foods we eat, drinking alcohol, smoking. Our foods are an especially major factor here. Too many sugary foods, refined carbs, heavy meats, too much dairy, too much alcohol, smoking, all encourage free radicals. On the other hand, a diet rich in green leafies as well as other veggies, fruits and berries, nuts and seeds, and certain varieties of fish gives a boost to antioxidant production, besides supplementing your body with an extra dose. Most antioxidants are plant-based, and therefore called phytochemicals or chemicals derived from plants, though certain meats are rich in antioxidants, too. You can learn more about these foods in this post and also here.
Interestingly, one glass of wine is on the good side but one glass too many falls on the wrong side of things. You see, wine is rich in a compound called resveratrol, which is also… you guessed it, an antioxidant! But too much wine means too much alcohol, which then begins to interfere with your body’s metabolic processes. The same holds true for coffee.
Can there be too many Antioxidants in the body?
Yes, there is also such a thing as too many antioxidants. Most vitamins and many minerals function as antioxidants, in the human body, but an excess of these can create mineral build up, creating a new problem for the body. For instance, excessive intake of vitamin C, the holy grail of antioxidants, has been found to be associated with kidney stones. Preliminary studies have also revealed the possibility of what is called the ‘antioxidant paradox’, wherein your body has so many antioxidants that these antioxidants start acting like free radicals, leading up to oxidative stress. The good news here is, you don’t need to get stressed out about this. The antioxidants you ingest through your foods will get processed as they should. But you need to go easy on the supplements—unless you have an underlying deficiency, you can and probably should give that multivitamin a miss.
How Antioxidants Help Your Skin
The best thing about antioxidants has to be their versatility. Antioxidants can be consumed as well as applied. Of course, when you consume them, they benefit your internal organs, too, but applying them topically is a great way to help your skin counter environmental damage. Our atma oil and saya oil are both veritable goldmines of antioxidants, ranging from apricot and jojoba oils to grapeseed, bergamot, sandalwood, sweet almond, avocado and lemon peel oils. These potent cocktails reverse the oxidative damage caused by the sun, air, water, and everything in between, to give your skin all the love and care it needs to stay youthful, longer.