On your face, they attack your sebum and morph a component called squalene into an acne causing form called squalene peroxide. This substance triggers a massive localised increase in sebum and to seal the pore-blocking deal, a surge in dead skin cell turnover.
Free radicals have a general weakening effect on acne-prone skin. They can deplete multifunctional antioxidants like vitamin E (keeps inflammation down too), vitamin A (slows the turnover of dead skin cells) and resveratrol (protects against sunlight).
How does all that translate onto your face? The answer is – clogged pores and inflammatory acne. Premature aging and lifeless skin also happen thanks to constant cellular damage.
If that sounds familiar, then good news – the following nine strategies will slash your free radical exposure down to safe levels. It’s a piece of cake in actual fact but you have to have the advanced knowledge. It’s not enough to stop external free radicals from entering your body, you also have to avoid the substances which aren’t free radicals but nevertheless allow the others to thrive.
Let’s get started:
1) Ozone bombards your face directly
-Higher lung cancer risk.
-Damage to throat tissue.
They are all signs of free radical exposure and the villain in question is ozone. O3 is formed when nitrogen dioxide (NO2) from car exhaust fumes reacts with “volatile organic compounds”. The problem? Ozone is a highly reactive molecule – and it particularly loves to react with your skin cells.
Have you ever noticed how acne is an epidemic in cities compared to the countryside? This study found that the free radicals generated by ozone can deplete vitamin E stores particularly well, by up to 25%.
The solution – move somewhere else! Move somewhere where’s there no ozone in particular. Otherwise, you can 1) shut your windows and make the air inside your house as fresh as can be, by planting houseplants or spraying less perfumes, deodorants, and air fresheners or 2) wash your face like a pro whenever you escape the outdoors.
2) Collateral damage from Benzoyl Peroxide
Benzoyl Peroxide is without question the most over-the-top facial cleanser ever created. BP is designed to kill p.acnes bacteria and it achieves this by breaking down into benzoic acid and oxygen upon contact with the skin. The oxygen acts as a free radical and successfully destroys bacteria, which is why users notice a short term reduction in inflammation.
However, long-term users frequently complain that the acne comes roaring back after several weeks. Why? BP kills bacteria, but the free radicals set the stage for its return in the future by oxidising your sebum and blocking your pores more than ever. Moreover, the constant bombardment of healthy tissues and vitamin E and A stores takes a heavy toll as the weeks progress.
Make no mistake – BP generates a ton of free radicals (also called reactive oxygen species). That’s exactly how this heavy duty weapon functions. And that’s exactly why you should avoid it.
The solution – ditch the BP and focus on your diet. You can’t cure acne with topical treatments, it’s a condition that starts inside the body. Why bother struggling to make the free radicals safe when you can eliminate the need for them in the first place.
Raw honey is a vastly superior way to kill bacteria. It’s been used as a wound dressing for centuries. Moreover, this power comes from natural peptides and compounds (bee defensin-1, Methylgyloxal) and not free radicals.
3) Cigarette smoke, first-hand or second hand
“Death sticks” are the biggest source of free radicals bar none. A single puff on a cigarette can fill your body with trillions. Tobacco happens to be a plant that oxidises extremely easily. Free radical production reaches its peak roughly 1-2 minutes after ignition, and that’s also peak smoking time.
Then cigarettes are filled with literally thousands of chemicals, fillers, flow agents – even former chemical weapons. Tobacco crop fields are drenched with glyphosate, an herbicide which isn’t a free radical but acts like one in the body.
This study analysed 11592 people and discovered that heavy cigarette smokers had by far the lowest levels of vitamin C in their blood. That’s your body’s main water-soluble antioxidant.
You don’t have to be puffing away yourself either; second hand cigarette smoke still contains tons. This study analysed the effect of tobacco smoke on rats, but not surprisingly, they couldn’t get the poor creatures to start puffing away. Hence, they breathed in second-hand cigarette smoke. Vitamin A levels fell substantially in their lungs, liver and blood.
The solution – stop smoking! If you can’t, minimise your intake as much as you can. I’m not a smoker myself, but I have a purely theoretical idea for a trick you could try.
Much of the relief from ingesting the nicotine comes from lowered stress levels, since your cravings vanish. Well, another indulgence that lowers stress levels is high-cocoa dark chocolate. Cocoa’s antioxidants can boost serotonin production, and it has a mood enhancing stimulant called theobromine. Furthermore, chocolate contains a neurotransmitter called anandamide, which temporarily blocks feelings of depression and anxiety.
Chocoholics everywhere eat chocolate when they’re stressed without realising it. Unlike cigarettes though, dark chocolate (85% cocoa is best) has acne-clearing benefits like lowered inflammation and antioxidants. Try dark chocolate and see if you can resist the nicotine urge!
4) Oxidised fish oil pills
Fish oil pills are a massive health craze at the moment because they’re the world’s best source of omega 3 fatty acids. They boost brain health and for acne, they can regulate your entire immune system and all its inflammatory processes. Moderate intakes of omega 3s can reduce acne by 42% according to some studies…
…but there’s a big problem with almost all cheap brands of the stuff: fish oil is a polyunsaturated fat. And because polyunsaturated fats are structurally weaker than saturated or monounsaturated ones, they are highly prone to oxidation when unaccompanied by antioxidants or when left for too long.
A fish oil that’s left for too long in a supplement shop or supermarket turns from an omega 3 pill into a free radical pill. Picture a common canola oil turning rancid on your shelf. Furthermore, if the oil is processed cheaply and harshly in a factory, the antioxidants will be destroyed.
Finally, those free radicals are lipid peroxides, which can only be deactivated by fat soluble antioxidants. What’s your main fat soluble antioxidant? The all-important vitamin E.
The solution – buy a more expensive brand! It’s pointless to save money with a cheap brand if it makes your acne worse. You want one that’s cold-processed to guarantee that the antioxidants are intact. Better yet, just eat real fish. Oily varieties contain natural, unprocessed omega 3s and other vitamins and minerals.
5) Sunlight (if your skin is weak)
Excessive exposure to UV light clearly does mutate your skin cells and cause cancer. A big cause of that skin cancer is production of free radicals by UV light, and it’s also a big cause of acne when your sebum later mutates. Excessive sun exposure WILL cause free radical overload…
…but sunlight exposure is also critical for all acne patients. You need UV light contact with the skin to stimulate vitamin D production. Almost all vitamin D comes from sun exposure, you can’t get enough through food. Vitamin D controls inflammatory chemical release, is needed to sensitive insulin receptor cells, and is critical for mental health (depression is often caused by low vitamin D levels).
It’s clearly a balancing act, so what must an acne patient do?
The solution – you have to get moderate amounts of sun but most importantly, you have to strengthen your skin’s defences. Dietary antioxidants like resveratrol will build themselves into your skin cells and strengthen their defences against UV light. The most important of those antioxidants is vitamin A.
Dark chocolate was found in one study to substantially increase the minimal erythemal dose, the lowest level at which UV light concentrations cause skin mutations. Getting more vitamin D itself will gradually strengthen your defences. If your skin develops rashes and burns easily, then try a vitamin D supplement first. I use this Garden of Life RAW D3 brand.
Those strategies will allow you to enjoy more vitamin D more and sunny days surfing on the beach without your skin becoming a pimple picnic.
Sugar is a nightmare for acne and that’s mainly because it increases inflammation by over 100%. However, sugar itself leads to increased generation of free radicals by your own body.
Consuming glucose leads to an almost immediate blood sugar spike, and when your blood glucose is high, the sugar reacts with proteins to form advanced glycation-end products.
What on earth are those? They’re mutated proteins which have strong free radical activity in your body. They can spread to anywhere, and deplete antioxidants that help your skin.
The solution – keep your sugar intake down! There are always some AGE’s being formed; it’s inevitable and perfectly safe. However, you can slow the conveyor belt by organising a clever low sugar, yet still nutritious diet. Consume less than 50 gram of sugar per day.
Also, eat that sugar from whole foods. The fiber will lower the glycaemic index and the blood sugar spike will be smaller. Naturally occurring sugars beat added refined sugar easily.
7) Standard deodorants and antiperspirants
The other massive source is about half of environmental toxins. You see, there are actually two sources of antioxidants in your diet. Firstly, you have the ones you eat in foods, and secondly, you have those manufactured inside your body. The main manufactured antioxidant is glutathione.
Glutathione is absolutely critical; it hoovers up a wide variety of free radicals, and it can even regenerate useful acne nutrients like vitamin C and vitamin E.
However, glutathione has another big role in the body; it is involved in phase 1 and 2 detoxification. It is used to reduce many toxins you consume into a state less harmful to the body by binding with them.
The problem? Every act of detoxification glutathione performs depletes your stocks slightly. Heavy metals, herbicides, personal care chemicals, and pesticides can all worsen the antioxidant status in your body as effectively as cigarettes or air pollution.
One such free radical imitator is deodorant. For who knows what reason, common spray deodorants and antiperspirants are high in aluminium. For example, this review of the common sources of aluminium exposure found that antiperspirant use can significantly increase the amount of aluminium absorbed into the body. After a single underarm application of antiperspirant, about .012 percent of the aluminium may be absorbed.
That’s not much, but aluminium is toxic and glutathione has to detoxify every molecule of it. This study found that aluminium depletes glutathione reductase substantially. Your antioxidants fall and fall when you apply these care products every morning.
The solution – minimise your usage of grocery store deodorants and antiperspirants, or hunt down aluminium free versions. Be warned though – almost all such products are contaminated with other chemicals whether it be parabens or inflammatory phthalates.
Fortunately there’s a glorious solution at hand. Underarm odour is actually caused by bacteria consuming your sweat, so a mixture of baking soda and coconut oil will work well as a roll-on deodorant alternative.
8) Pacific Tuna
Tuna is the common fish that is most heavily contaminated with mercury, a heavy metal with carcinogenic and neuron destroying properties. The oceans are full of mercury thanks to decades of industrial pollution spewing out of China. Given how fast the Chinese economy is still growing, the contamination is getting worse and worse.
The quantity of mercury in fish shot up by 30% from 1990 to 2009. By 2050, it’s expected to skyrocket by 50%. Roughly 75 percent of all human exposure to mercury in general comes from eating fish. 40 percent of all US exposure to mercury comes from eating contaminated tuna from the Pacific Ocean.
How does this increase free radical activity? Well, mercury is well known to deplete glutathione rapidly in the body. Glutathione transferase is the main agent in the phase 1 detoxification of mercury. In fact, glutathione is so connected to mercury that increasing its production is a main strategy of professional mercury detoxification protocols.
The solution – I don’t like to say it but you need to find another fish to eat. It’s a real shame to be honest. I love the taste of tuna and it’s packed with acne-clearing minerals like zinc. But luckily, you can move to greener pastures and eat salmon or herring or mackerel or even sardines instead.
9) Commercial fruit juice
…but there’s another problem with fruit juice: arsenic. Many brands contain well over the 100ppb safe drinking limit set by the World Health Organisation. Apple juice and grape juice are particularly contaminated; Consumer Reports found that people who consumed apple juice regularly had an average of 19% more arsenic in their bloodstream compared to those who didn’t drink it.
That’s bad news, because arsenic is a heavy metal, and the broad rule is that glutathione is involved in the detoxification of nearly all of them. This 2013 study analysed 378 patients with varying blood levels of arsenic, and concluded that an increase in blood arsenic was associated with depleted glutathione levels. Previous studies found an association between arsenic and oxidative stress.
The solution – say no to fruit juice! Say no to the adverts which claim that a glass of apple juice counts as one of your “five a day”. It doesn’t, because the juice is stored in concentrate for up to a year and the vitamin C quantity slowly depletes.
Only drink fruit juice for a treat. Instead, eat real fruit. Buy organic apples to minimise the risk of arsenic and also other pesticides, many of which also have the power to deplete glutathione.
…and one dead easy antioxidant source
If you’re a regular reader around here, you’ll know that I recommend an acne diet packed with antioxidant rich foods. Apples, broccoli, and watermelon are all great, while sweet potatoes, dark chocolate and pomegranate are truly excellent.
But there’s one food that rises above them all in terms of sheer simplicity, and that’s organic oregano. This stuff is terrific! I sprinkle organic oregano over every food I can, especially steak and meat. Why?
Dried oregano is the fifth richest source of antioxidants known to man. It’s ORAC score is a staggering 200,000. Compare that with 10,500 for a pomegranate and 16,000 for a cup of coffee, both revered for their antioxidants. Because oregano is dried out, all the phenols and flavonoids in the fresh oregano leaf become hyper-concentrated. That’s what gives oregano its flavour.
The best part is the sheer convenience. A bag of organic oregano can be bought in wholesale for almost nothing from many online retailers. If you live in the UK then check out realfoods.co.uk. You don’t have to steam it like broccoli or kale; just add it to whatever food it tastes good with.
Oregano is my number 1 recommended strategy for sending your antioxidant intake through the roof.
There you have it. Nine simple ways to avoid free radicals. If your skin is grey, tired, and generally lifeless then free radicals are likely a big villain behind your acne. In turn, the steps above are a good place to start.
If for whatever reason you can’t effectively follow the steps above, then don’t fear; there are two strategies you can follow.
Number one, you must cram as many antioxidant rich fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices into your diet as you can. You need all the resources to give the free radicals in your body a pummelling.
Number two, you must boost your production of indigenous antioxidants like glutathione. The easiest and most effective trick for producing more glutathione is increasing your selenium intake. Two of these Anna and Sarah Organic Raw Brazil Nuts contain 192mcg, which is 250% of the recommended daily allowance.
Remember – don’t forget to optimise glutathione! It’s the antioxidant which is most overlooked by society and acne patients.
Thanks for reading!