You may, from time to time, have heard that how “antioxidants” can relieve “oxidative stress” and fight “free radicals”. But what are they actually? And what is the relationship between “oxidative stress”, “free radicals” and acne? And in what way “antioxidants” can help? Today, we will explore them together. Also, be prepared for my little surprise for you in the end!
Inflammation and Oxidative stress
Reactive oxygen species (ROS), or commonly known as “free radicals”, are extremely unstable species that steal electrons from other molecules. This process is called oxidation. It causes damage such as destroy biological structures and promote further inflammation inside the pilosebaceous units, medical jargon for the small oil-producing areas and tiny hairs that make up your pores. Thankfully, our body has an effective natural defense system to defend free radicals and even prevent their formation with antioxidants and other mechanisms manufactured inside the cells. Oxidative stress happens when the amount of free radicals is more than our body can handle, and when our body is not supported by enough internal antioxidant supply.
Inflammation Causes Acne; Antioxidants Heal It
Studies show that acne patients are under increased cutaneous and systemic oxidative stress, which may be an early event that promotes acne development process.
In an analysis of several studies, Dr. Whitney Bowe physician scientist and Clinical Assistant Professor of Dermatology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, found out that decreased antioxidant levels are commonly found in adults with acne. For example, blood levels of antioxidant vitamins such as A, C and E are actually lower in people suffering from acne compared to people with clear skin. In fact, as early as 1987, there already had been studies that showed a successful acne treatment with a combination of oral vitamin A and E, according to The Clear Skin Diet.
Similarly, the book also mentions another study by Dr. V. M. Kovalev, the Russian dermatologist who was examining the role of anti-inflammatory medications in acne. He found that lipoic acid, one of the human body’s most crucial antioxidants, was twice as low in the blood of acne patience as those without acne, and that the additional of alpha-lipoic acid “improves treatment outcomes in acne and shortens the length of time required to get results from standard acne care”.
Besides Vitamin A and E and lipoic acid, there are other antioxidants (such as zinc, nicotinamide, and an Omega-3 fatty acid called EPA) used in other studies cited in The Clear Skin Diet to prove their effectiveness in acne treatment. All studies suggest that inflammation (or, excessive oxidative stress) is one of the underlying reasons for acne, and that increasing the level of antioxidants (or, decreasing the level of oxidative stress) can successfully heal acne conditions.
Where does Oxidative Stress Come from?
Knowing the danger of oxidative stress, we need to try to prevent it from happening. How do we do it? Below are two areas that should call for your attention:
Saturated fats, trans fats and excess omega-6 fatty acids promotes inflammation by producing PGE2, LTB4 and cytokines.
Together, saturated fats (such as palm oil), trans fats and excess omega-6 fatty acids (e.g., corn, safflower, soybean, and sunflower oils) can promote the development of inflammatory chemicals called prostaglandins, particularly the series 2 type called PGE2, as well as leukotrienes, particularly the one called LTB4. Both PGE2 and LTB4 directly lead to acne breakouts. Worse still, they both will encourage the production of immune chemicals called cytokines, which also contributes to inflammation and the acnes process.
Your stress levels can promotion the productions of oxidative stress.
Studies show that acute psychological stress, or chronic psychologic stress, may induce a chronic inflammatory process. To understand why chronic stress can lead to high levels of inflammation in the body, another study was conducted and discovered that “chronic stress changes gene activity of immune cells before they enter the bloodstream so that they’re ready to fight infection or trauma – even when there is no infection or trauma to fight. This then leads to increased inflammation”.
Four Ways to Enjoy Antioxidants
As mentioned above, welcoming antioxidants in your life is crucial in dampening inflammation, minimizing oxidative stress to treat and prevent acne breakouts. Below are several options that you could do:
Option #1: add antioxidants to your diets.
This is crucial because dietary sources of antioxidants can effectively strengthen your body’s natural defense system against free radicals. Therefore, make yourself a colorful diet rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and culinary herbs.
Speaking of nuts, based on my personal experience, you have to pay special attention when it comes to consuming nuts. Nuts are crunchy and can easily get addicted to, I know. Note that excess intake of nuts can also lead to breakouts. For me, whenever I indulge myself by taking too many peanuts, cashews, almonds and walnuts, my sensitive skin immediately breaks out in less than two days (“too many” means I used to consume 20-30 assorted nuts!). So make sure you only have a handful each time, or even better, mix them with green vegetables for better digestion.
Option #2: avoid trans fats, consume saturated fats and omega-6 fatty acids in moderation.
As already mentioned above, these three together can induce production of PGE2, LTB4 and cytokines, all contributing to inflammation and acne process.
Trans fats are made by adding hydrogen to vegetable oil through a process called hydrogenation. They can help foods stay fresh longer and have a less greasy feel. Yet, they can not only induce inflammation, but also cause a series of health issues such as increasing the levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad” cholesterol, and the chances for heart disease. Therefore, trans fats are recommended to be avoided totally.
Saturated fats mainly come from animal sources of food such as red meat, poultry and full-fat dairy products. Similar to trans fats, they can also increase total blood cholesterol levels and “bad” cholesterol levels, which leads to heart disease and may increase the risk of type 2 diabetes. As a general rule, unsaturated fats are better than saturated fats.
Here comes the question that seems confusing: are all saturated fats created equal? Coconut oil, highly recommended by basically everywhere (simply google “coconut oil benefits” and you will see why), is also a type of saturated fats. So, is it a go or no-to?
According to Dariush Mozzaffarian, MD, of Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health, says that “we still don’t know if it is harmful or beneficial”. However, it seems that studies tend to recognize the benefits of consuming coconut oil. For example, there are studies that show “the saturated fats found in animal foods (such as butter, beef, dairy, turkey, chicken, eggs, etc) is harmful to heart health but that the saturated fat found in unrefined and unprocessed coconut foods is not harmful”. Additionally, some recent studies also show that virgin coconut oil could prevent the oxidative stress and, hence, has a beneficial role in improving antioxidant status.
So, I would personally vote for coconut oil. Be careful that: just because it can be beneficial for the body, it doesn’t mean you should take it as much as you want. For me, I personally would take three tablespoons of pure, unrefined and cold-pressed organic extra virgin coconut oil each day.
Next, moderate your consumption of omega-6 fatty acids and instead consume more omega-3 fatty acids. Here are some good sources for omega-3 fatty acids: deep leafy green vegetables, blueberries, canola oil, ground flaxseeds, wild salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring and tuna.
Option #3: manage your stress
Reducing oxidative stress is as powerful as increasing antioxidant levels in the body. This is when stress management comes into play.
If you visit my site often, you will realize that I try to come up with “Tracy’s Pick of the Week” to summarize what interesting news I have discovered from the past seven days. And I try to incorporate some stress relief tips for my readers, since I personally believe that stress management and having a positive mindset to see the world are very crucial when it comes to acne treatment. Two of my frequently visited resources for stress relief advice are Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits and Dr. Lissa Rankin’s blog. Leo offers great advice on keeping a simple life; while Dr. Rankin focuses on loving yourself by using your mind as the medicine. Below are two selected articles I have picked for you. Enjoy!
Option #4: apply antioxidant topicals
Dr. Bowe recommends applying an antioxidant serum under your sunscreen, or finding a sunscreen that contains antioxidants with broad-spectrum UVA and UVB-blocking ingredients.
I personally would opt for face oils for my moisturizer, as they are more easily absorbed and, counter-intuitively, do not feel oily at all after being absorbed by the skin. Here are some personal recommendations that are packed with antioxidants: jojoba oil, vitamin E oil, coconut oil and almond oil.
Lil’ Surprise: Food Chart for You!
Last but not least, below is a food chart where I have organized foods listed in The Clear Skin Diet for both you and me. Please feel free to download HERE (no emails are required), print it out and stick it onto your fridge like I already did ; ) Hope you find that helpful.
Base on the four options listed above, what is the first thing you plan to do RIGHT NOW?