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Antioxidants and Skin Care: Media Hype or Wonder Drug ?

Colleen Reilly

Aging is a natural process of life. However, retailers today are publicizing that their products can reduce or even eliminate the signs of aging. Many cosmetic companies advertise age-defying makeup, which they claim will erase the wrinkles on the skin and produce a newer, fresher look.

The most recent age-defying product on the market is antioxidants. Claiming that their products will diminish the signs of aging, companies sell volumes of antioxidants to consumers. Their claims offer the controversial questions: Can a drug stop the effects of aging? How many capsules does it take to eliminate facial wrinkles? Are these pills simply placebos?


Antioxidants and Free Radicals

What are Antioxidants?

Antioxidants are chemicals that protect cells by neutralizing external forces (such as damage from the sun, pollution, wind, and temperature) and internal factors (for example, emotions, metabolism, and the presence of excess oxygen). Common antioxidants are Vitamins A, C, E, and beta carotene. These special chemicals assist in skin repair and the strengthening of blood vessels.

Why do we need them?

Antioxidants are necessary because they combat free radicals. Free radicals are byproducts that are formed when oxygen is used by the body ( . Free radicals start a chain reaction under the skin's surface, and outlined below is the process of destruction.

Some forces that cause free radicals are air pollution, sunlight, alcohol, and cigarette smoke. Another factor is stress; stress produces adrenaline-related products, which not only restricts blood flow to our skin, but also generates potent, destructive free radicals ( facial). According to the free radical theory, aging is caused by the slow cumulative oxidation of body tissues over a lifetime (Gutteridge, 1994).

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How Do Antioxidants Work?

There are many ways to take antioxidants; the most common way is by ingesting tablets. Companies sell pills with their own secret and special formulas; however, most tablets contain the antioxidant proanthocyanidin.

Proanthocyanidin, or OPC, is the most powerful antioxidant known. OPC's are found in many plants, are highly bioavailable and are active in the body as tremendous antioxidants and free radical scavengers ( l). These powerful antioxidants protect collagen, which is the foundation for blood vessels and all connective tissues.

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Claims about Antioxidant Products

The Life Plus company concocts their tablets from pine bark and grape seeds. This company named its product Forever Young Tablets. Life Plus boasts that the special nutrients in the tablets help the body produce collagen and elastin, but also protect existing collagen and elastin from free radicals. The special nutrients are ingredients such as rice protein concentrate, Norwegian kelp, and a special marine concentrate from deep, cold water fish. An eighty-two year old woman testified that she has soft, great looking skin, and she no longer needs any kind of lotion because proanthocyanidins have restored moisture to her skin (http://www.mindspring .com/bobatlgaltest.html#arthritis).

People can also use a cream or gel to bring antioxidants into contact with the skin. The Life Plus company also sells Forever Young Facial Perfecting Gel It is made up of:

Theophylline complex, which aids the body in burning fat;
paraquay tea, which magnifies the effects of Theophylline;
Dioscorea extract, which is a natural anti-aging agent; and
Anthocyanidins, which are powerful antioxidants.

This is a revolutionary product because it actually contours and firms facial skin with natural ingredients. All of the ingredients work together to prevent free radical damage, either by quenching the free radicals, stopping a chain reaction of lipid peroxidation, or binding iron so that it does not react with the reactive oxygen species to form hydroxyl radicals ( cial.html). One user from Florida wrote on the testimonial page that her leathery skin have never been so soft and supple (http://www.mindspring .com/bobatlgaltest.html#arthritis).

Aestival's Firming Eye Gel is another antioxidant- containing product. This formula not only reduces the appearance of fine lines around the eyes, but it also helps the skin to retain moisture and look and feel soft and young ( 6r/rcxall/Skinth.htm). Consumers can get the whole pack, which contains 4 other special gels and creams, for the bargain price of $99.50. Aestival boasts that their moisturizing and exfoliating formulations enhance the regenerative qualities of your skin- cleansing, toning, and freshening coactively.

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The Scientific Foundation of Antioxidants

Scientists have discovered that the metabolic rate of animals is related to their life span. Therefore, larger animals do not consume as much oxygen per unit of body mass as smaller animals, and larger animals live longer. Consequently, researchers believe that aging is connected with oxygen metabolism and involves free radicals. Thus, the faster oxygen is consumed by an organism, the more free radicals it might make (Gutteridge, 1994).

Gutteridge (1994) believes there is no convincing evidence that free radicals cause the aging process He states that antioxidants do not lose their effectiveness over time, nor do they increase life span. The inevitable deterioration of body tissues as an organism grows older may possibly lead to free radical damage. Thus, claims that antioxidants, royal jelly, or any other potion will make you live longer are without scientific foundation (Gutteridge, 1994).

Do Antioxidants Affect the Immune System?

Chandra (1992) studied 96 healthy men and women over the age of 65 in a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial to note a response (if any) to an antioxidant-enriched supplement. The supplement contained vitamin E and beta carotene. After one year, Chandra (1992) reported that the group with the supplement exhibited a significant improvement in immune function, including the number of T cells. This group also had 48% fewer days of infection-related illness than the control subjects and 56% fewer days of antibiotic use (Chandra, 1992).

Antioxidants and Macular Degeneration

Antioxidants can also play a role in the prevention of age-related maculopathy, which is the degeneration of eye tissue. Researchers held a study in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin using 2429 men and women aged 43 through 86. In this study, the observers conducted retrospective cohort study using data about the subjects' diets. The observers noted that the intake of vitamins C and E (antioxidant-containing vitamins) resulted in a lower risk of early age-related maculopathy (Mares-Perlman, J., Klein, R., Klein, B., Greger, J., Brady, W., Palta, M., Ritter, L., 1996).

Antioxidants and Acetaminophen-induced Toxicity

Silymarin, a powerful antioxidant, reduces the toxins produced by acetaminophen (commonly known as Tylenol). After injecting silymarin into human epidermal cells in vitro (outside of the body), scientists noticed a significant decrease in cytotoxicity (Shear, Malkiewicz, Klein, Koren, Randor, and Neuman, 1995). Silymarin accomplishes this feat by stabilizing the mitochondrial membranes in human epidermal cells.

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Antioxidants - The Real Hype

Many people are confused about the hype over antioxidants. More and more people are taking antioxidant-based products, whether they are prescribed by a physician or not. One doctor reported that one of her patients had been taking antioxidants for several months. She had a five hour facelift surgery that routinely causes massive swelling and bruising. This woman had virtually no swelling or bruising and the plastic surgeon said that he was 'amazed' at the incredible healing (http://www.sports-

Antioxidants can not eliminate wrinkles or other effects of aging simply because growing old is a natural process of life. Skin thickness increases with age, while skin elasticity decreases; this can not be avoided (Takema, Y., Yorimoto, Y., Kawai, M., Imokawa, G., 1994). Merely taking antioxidant supplements will not correct the loss of skin elasticity or make the facial skin look younger. Supplements of antioxidants will not replace a deficiency of iron or other vitamins (Halliwell, 1996).

The information available on antioxidants is contradictory. The studies on antioxidants are very misleading; the titles present the question of the myth of antioxidant supplements, but the answer is not found within the conclusions. However, most researches seem to agree that antioxidants do not prevent cancer or heart disease, and they do not increase the life span of a person. It has also not been proven that antioxidant supplements reduce or expunge facial wrinkles or make the skin look younger.

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What Should You Do? Advice for the Consumer

Halliwell (1996) suggests that people have a diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables and avoid smoking (a major cause of free-radical buildup). Dietary supplementation with [antioxidants] should use only amounts close to the USA RDA (Halliwell, 1996). Exceeding the recommended level has not proved to be of extra benefit. However, the toxicity of vitamin E is low; . . . the toxicity of beta-carotene also is low (Diplock, 1995). Diplock's findings are based on circumstantial evidence that 15- 50 mg/d is without side effects. If a person ingests more than the advised amount, it should not cause harm to the person's body. Scientists believe that it is wise to get a sufficient amount of antioxidants in the diet to meet the RDA, but large doses have not yet been proven beneficial. In conclusion, taking antioxidants to save facial skin or prevent aging does not appear to be supported by scientific evidence.

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Chandra, R. (1992). Effect of vitamin and trace element supplementation in immune responses and infection in elderly subjects. Lancet, 340, 112- 1127.

Diplock, A. (1995). Safety of antioxidant vitamins and beta-carotene. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 62, 1510-1516.

Gutteridge, J., Halliwell, B. (1994) Antioxidants in nutrition, health, and disease. 120- 124.

Halliwell, B. (1996). Vitamin C: Antioxidant or Pro-oxidant in vivo? Free Radical Research, 25, 439-454.

Mares-Perlman, J., Klein, R., Klein, B., Greger, J., Brady, W., Palta, M., Ritter, L. (1996). Association of zinc and antioxidant nutrients with age-related maculopathy. Archives of Ophthalmolgy, 114, 991-997.

Rice - Evans, C., Burdon, R. (1994). Free radical damage and its control. 14-19.

Shear, N., Malkiewicz, I., Klein, D., Koren, G., Randor, S., Neuman, M. (1995). Acetaminophen-induced toxicity to human epidermoid cell line A431 is diminished by silymarin. Skin Pharmacology, 8, 279-291.

Takema, Y., Yorimoto, Y., Kawai, M., Imokawa, G. (1994). Age-related changes in the elastic properties and thickness of human facial skin. British Journal of Dermatology, 131, 641-648.

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