Oxidative stress on the skin – impact and protection


Authored by – Dr. Subhashini Mohan, Consultant Dermatologist, Fortis Malar, Chennai

Oxidative stress- another annoyance added to our ever-increasing pile of stresses in the world. As if we don’t have to worry enough about the ongoing pandemic, the ever-increasing population and global warming! Alas, oxidative stress is another agent that heavily ads on the skin’s ageing process.

What is skin ageing?

Ageing of skin is natural process as age grows. It is not solely chronological but also aided by many other contributing factors which either fall into intrinsic or extrinsic kind.

Intrinsic ageing – the naturally occurring process of thinning your skin cells gradually stop regeneration and renewing themselves is called intrinsic ageing. This is controlled by each person’s individual genetic clock and occurs because of a reduction in telomerases, an enzyme that help in DNA repair after each cycle. The process of intrinsic ageing starts in your mid-20s and continues throughout life. This may not become evident for decades. Ultimately, collagen production deteriorates, skin turnover decreases, and your skin appears duller by the day, and this cycle continues till your skin cells die. The sign of intrinsic ageing includes hollowed cheek and eye, loss of skin firmness.


Extrinsic ageing – also known as environmental ageing, occurs with the help of environmental factors that amplify the process of extrinsic ageing. Major reasons that induce extrinsic ageing include sun exposure, repetitive facial expression, gravity, pollution, sleeping position and smoking (both active as well as passive smoking). Major reason for extrinsic ageing is exposure to sun. The signs include laxity, wrinkles, dyspigmentation, premature wrinkling and actinic elastosis.

Oxidative stress is noting but an imbalance between the production of free radicals and antioxidants. Whenever there is any kind of suffering by the skin, which includes anything from DNA damage because of UV rays or smoking, reactive oxidative species are generated by your skin cells. These reactive oxygen species tempt the formation of an enzyme called matrix metalloproteinases responsible for degrading collagen and elastin. Reactive oxygen species disrupt the antioxidant system in your body resulting to oxidative stress.

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How do you prevent the damage caused by oxidative stress?

In simple terms, oxidative stress can be prevented or reduced by altering the lifestyle and dietary changes to our daily life. This can be achieved by:

  • Include relevant antioxidants in your skincare routine. Ascorbic acid, or vitamin C, acts as a ROS scavenger by acting as an electron donor. Out of all the antioxidants, vitamin C is the most effective. By saving skin cells from being oxidized, it has a potent and strong effect on reversing and preventing the signs of ageing.
  • Secondly, vitamin E is another compound that protects the skin against oxidative damage. This lipid-soluble vitamin is abundant in plant oils. It induces detoxification, as well as decrease the occurrence of cancer caused by the sun rays.
  • Beta carotene, which is a form of Vitamin A, scavenges free radicals and inhibits the oxidation of cell membranes. By directly combining with the free radicals and forming a product that is decomposed and protects the cell membranes from oxidation. Other forms of Vitamin A, including retinol and retinoic acid have also proven to reduce oxidative stress.
  • Glutathione, a very important contributor to the anti-oxidative potential in the body, gets oxidized by reactive oxygen radicals therefore gives its contribution to detoxifying the body and protects skin cells. Additionally, glutathione can also regenerate the already oxidized Vitamin E and A.

As the amount of the above-mentioned compounds are heavily reduced in the ageing skin, it is probably best to include them as major components of your skincare routine. Topical treatments, as well as supplements, quench the ROS, to save the dying skin.

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