FM asks…I also use olive oil as a facial moisturizer. Does this provide sufficient antioxidant protection?
The Left Brain responds:
Assessing how much antioxidant protection you need is a more difficult question to answer than you might imagine. I just read a great article by one of my favorite dermatologists, Zoe Diana Draelos, that explains the difficulty in measuring antioxidant efficacy under real life conditions. But first I’ll provide a little background.
Your skin (and other body tissues) can contain molecules known as free radicals – these are harmful substances that contain an unpaired electron. When they’re in pairs, electors are “balanced” and don’t pose a problem. But the “loose” electron in free radicals can attack cells in the body and cause all kinds of havoc. That’s where antioxidants come to the rescue: they can stabilize the free radical either donating an electron to it or by neutralizing it. Problem solved!
Unfortunately, it’s not easy to tell how well antioxidants really work. In her article, Dr. Draelos points out the two key problems with understanding how much antioxidants you really need: With ingested antioxidants it’s hard to know the proper dose. (For example, she says that questions have been raised whether or not high doses of vitamin C are really helping your body or just creating “expensive urine.”)
Second, for topical products (antioxidant creams and lotions) it’s hard to prevent the antioxidant ingredient from being “used up” by the environmental oxygen when they are applied to the skin. The truth is, scientists don’t know how well either of these antioxidant approaches really work.
Why are the real life effects of antioxidants so unknown? Because, while there are laboratory ways to measure the effect at the cellular level, scientists have very limited tools to measure the real life effects of antioxidants. Dr. Draelos says the only currently viable method of measuring antioxidant performance on skin is a test called “the sunburn cell assay.” This test involves taking a samples of skin tissue with and without antioxidants of people with a special skin type who have been exposed to UV rays. The effect of the antioxidant can be determined by counting the number of sunburned cells. While it’s a very crude method, it’s the best that exists right now. Needless to say, not many companies go to the trouble of testing their products to this extent. That’s why it’s really hard to answer your question.
We agree with Dr. Draelos’ point that antioxidants are an important part of a sun-protective program, but you should realize that claims around the efficacy of any specific antioxidants are controversial.