The marketing language for beauty products often boasts about antioxidants in general, enigmatic terms. You’ve probably heard that antioxidants play an important role in your skin’s health, but what are they? What do they actually do? And how does this knowledge help you protect your skin?
It’s impossible to understand the importance of antioxidants without their counterpart, free radicals. They both work under the guiding principle that electrons don’t like to be alone; they need to be paired up in even numbers for optimal stability. Free radicals are unstable atoms or molecules with an odd number of electrons, and they will try to grab a new electron wherever they can to create a stable pair. By stealing electrons from their neighbors, free radicals disrupt other molecules around them and create a chain reaction of oxidative stress and damage. Antioxidants are the heroes of the story, breaking the chain reaction by scavenging free radicals and donating electrons to them.
Reducing the problem to “antioxidants good, free radicals bad” makes it easy to grasp, but like most things in life, this issue isn’t all black and white. Not all free radicals are bad. They even play a crucial role in some of your body’s natural biological processes, such as wound healing. A balance of free radicals and antioxidants is key.
Living in modern society, that equilibrium often swings in favor of free radicals. You’re likely to get barraged with free radicals from environmental sources like pollution, UV damage, smoke, and alcohol. The cumulative effects emerge as some of the most common skin concerns—uneven skin tone or texture, fine lines, wrinkles, and sagging. Introducing more antioxidants in your skincare routine helps protect and strengthen your skin by balancing out these harmful influences.
Some potent options to look for on an ingredient list include:
Vitamin A, also known as good old retinol.
Ubiquinone, also known as CoQ10. This antioxidant is so prevalent in the human body that the name “ubiquinone” was actually inspired by its ubiquity. Thanks to this pervasiveness, ubiquinone works well for a wide variety of skin types and concerns.
Vitamin E, which can also be found in many plant seed-derived oils like almond oil, grapeseed oil, and avocado oil.
This category includes powerful antioxidants like ferulic acid and the flavonoids found in red wine, tea, berries, and coffee.
Just like how fruits and vegetables provide our diets with lots of vitamins and nutrients, plant extracts from cucumbers, tomatoes, etc., bring antioxidant benefits to skincare.
Vitamin C is tricky for me, since my skin doesn’t tolerate it very well. However, there’s no denying the mountains of research supporting vitamin C’s skin benefits. Not all ingredients work for everyone, some due to allergies or sensitivities—you may need to experiment to find what works best for you!
Your skin is a remarkably dynamic piece of natural engineering. It’s in a constant state of transformation, shedding nearly a million cells each day and generating fresh ones to take their place. I love exfoliation precisely because it mimics and enhances this natural desquamation process; it takes something good and innate about our skin and cranks up the volume to produce even greater results. As much as I’ve discussed facial exfoliation in this blog, those facial cells make up only a small fraction of your skin’s total surface. Body exfoliation uses an even bigger canvas and can achieve even more impressive results.
Body vs. Facial Exfoliation: How They Differ
Because we wear clothes on our bodies and not on our faces, bodily skin is generally better protected from the elements than facial skin. As a result, bodily skin can accumulate a thicker layer of dead keratinocytes on the surface—this makes for skin that’s more receptive to exfoliation and may reveal more dramatic results. This lack of exposure to the elements also means that skin on our bodies tends to be a bit heartier and less sensitive.
As much as I believe that less is more for the face, more can be more when it comes to body care. You can experiment much more broadly with products like scrubs and chemical exfoliants on your body without risking potential sensitization. If you’ve got your facial routine on a good track but are really itching to indulge in some new fun products, your body care routine can provide that outlet.
Body & Facial Exfoliation: How They Are Similar
Structurally, your facial skin and body skin (with the exception of the palms of your hands and soles of your feet) are no different. The same general guidelines apply: gradual and consistent changes tend to yield the best results. Check in with your bodily skin just as you would with facial skin to tune to its changing needs, and consider how other parts of your body care routine (such as your soap or cleanser, your washcloth, your moisturizer or body oil, etc.) can affect the results of your exfoliation routine. Sensitization is less likely on the body, but not impossible! You could still overdo it by using a harsh soap, a scrub, and a buffing mitt in the shower, then topping it all off with a chemical exfoliant lotion.
My Favorite Body Exfoliants
1.) Sugar Scrubs
There’s something so satisfying about the grittiness of a sugar scrub—you can feel it working. I wouldn’t recommend such a coarse physical exfoliant for the face, but sugar scrubs are ideal for body exfoliation. I particularly love the Herbivore Botanicals Coco Rose Body Polish; its coconut oil base leaves skin feeling smooth and protected.
2.) Dry Brushing
In addition to manual exfoliation, dry brushing also stimulates circulation and can help with lymphatic drainage. Start at your extremities and work upward or inward in smooth strokes toward the center of your chest to encourage blood flow and movement of lymphatic fluid.
3.) Chemical Exfoliants
I love body cream with a good exfoliating acid. Enduringly popular in facial products, acids can also provide the same glow-inducing, skin-smoothing benefits on your body. Alpha hydroxy acids like glycolic and lactic work wonders on dry, flaky skin and impart some humectant moisture. Be warned, though—they may sting when applied to freshly shaved skin. Alternately, beta hydroxy acids like salicylic are better suited to tackle rough, bumpy texture such as keratosis pilaris. I choose the Paula’s Choice Resist Weightless Body Treatment 2% BHA for smooth, bump-free skin.
Indulge your body in a little extra self care this winter!
It’s a shame that cleansers aren’t considered the most exciting products in the world of skincare. We still cleanse out of a sense of duty and responsibility, but cleanser doesn’t get the same hype as serums, oils, or more treatment-focused products. This attitude of perfunctory cleansing misses the point in celebrating life’s simple pleasures. A good cleanse can feel like a fresh opportunity.
Cleansing sets the foundation for your whole routine—if you’re not doing it well, then every subsequent product you layer won’t perform optimally. The key lies in choosing a cleanser (and cleansing method) that’s appropriate for your skin type. There’s a handy guide on different cleansers below, but I also have a few quick tips to keep in mind:
Squeaking is for cheese curds and dog toys, not for your skin. A squeaky-clean feel means you’ve over-cleansed. Cleansing too much or using a cleanser that’s too harsh can strip your protective acid mantle and lead to surface dryness and irritation. Irritating your skin in the first step of your routine isn’t exactly setting yourself up for success.
Under-cleansing isn’t ideal, either. If you don’t cleanse thoroughly enough, you’ll leave behind excess oil and grime that prevents any products you layer on top from absorbing fully.
I strongly recommend a non-foaming cleanser. Depending on your skin type, that might be an oil cleanser, a milk or cream cleanser, a balm cleanser, or a non-foaming water-soluble gel cleanser. Non-foaming cleansers tend to strike a good balance between gentleness and effectiveness, leaving skin soft and supple. Don’t be fooled by the lack of suds—the surfactants in a non-foaming cleanser are still capable of getting your skin ultra-clean.
Your cleansing product of choice is only half of the equation. How you cleanse (and how frequently you cleanse) matter, too. You may want to experiment with cleansing twice a day vs. only at night, using a single cleanser vs. double cleansing, and comparing a wide variety of different facial cloths. Check out my earlier posts on washcloths and double cleansing for more info.
Most importantly, play around with your products and experiment to find what works best for you! Remember that you aren’t beholden to any popularly held cleansing standards–you don’t have to follow an oil cleanse with a water-soluble cleanse just because someone said so. Be creative and break some rules!