Free radicals and antioxidants
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NaturaEqua Radicali liberi e antiossidanti: cosa sono e come si producono? Free radicals and antioxidants

Free radicals and antioxidants

What they are and how they are produced

Free radicals are “waste” products that form naturally inside the body’s cells when oxygen is used during metabolic processes to produce energy (oxidation).
From a biochemical standpoint, free radicals are particularly unstable molecules and this leads them to seek stability by appropriating electrons from the other molecules they come into contact with, molecules which then become unstable and, in turn, go seeking electrons, and so on and so forth, giving rise to a “chain reaction” of instability. This series of reactions can last anywhere from a few fractions of a second to hours at a time, but it can be stopped or its extent limited by the presence of various antioxidant agents.

Their effect on the body

The destructive action of free radicals has the greatest impact on cells, and in particular on the fats that form their membranes (liperoxidation), on their sugars and phosphates, on the proteins in their central nuclei and especially on DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), whose genetic information they can alter, on enzymes, etc.
Ongoing free radical activity is most evident in the form of early cell ageing and the appearance of a variety of serious diseases including cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, pulmonary emphysema, cataracts, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, dermatitis, etc.

Antioxidants are the enemies of free radicals

Antioxidants restore chemical balance within free radicals, thanks to their ability to provide them with the electrons they are lacking.
The human body naturally defends itself against free radicals by producing its own endogenous antioxidants such as superoxide dismutase, catalase, and glutathione. Once a certain threshold is reached, an external source of antioxidants is needed.
The principal ones are:
Plant pigments: polyphenols, bioflavonoids
Vitamins: vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene (pro-vitamin A)
Micronutrients and enzymes: selenium, copper, zinc, glutathione, coenzyme Q10, melatonin, uric acid, etc.).
Antioxidants can work individually or in concert, interacting and protecting each other when oxidation occurs.
Keep in mind that each antioxidant has a specific range of action limited to one or two specific types of free radicals. A balanced blend of antioxidants can therefore guarantee truly effective activity.

Antioxidant activity in cosmetics

In addition to protecting against free radicals, antioxidant activity is important in cosmetics because it preserves product quality.
More specifically, antioxidants are added to products to prevent the oils from oxidising, or becoming rancid.
A number of different antioxidants can be used for this purpose. The most commonly used are BHT and tocopherol.
BHT, however, like BHA, is not well received by the body.
Naturaequa has chosen to use as its antioxidants tocopheryl acetate (a precursor of tocopherol, vitamin E) and a mixture of food-grade antioxidants (lecithin, tocopherol, ascorbyl palmitate, citric acid).
The other criteria used when choosing these antioxidants were a high levels of effectiveness, the fact they had to be 100% natural and biodegradable, as well as safety of use.
Tocopheryl acetate is the ester of acetic acid of α-tocopherol and is a hydrosoluble form of tocopherol.
Vitamin E and its esters have high antioxidant activity, as they are able to mitigate the reactivity of free radicals, blocking the cascade of events that lead to oxidative stress, which causes cellular damage. Moreover, free radicals, which form as the result of the action of UV rays, smoke, and pollution, break down the fatty acids in the skin and alter collagen structure. This causes the skin to lose elasticity and promotes early skin ageing, with the formation of wrinkles.
Tocopheryl acetate has less antioxidant activity than its free form and, given that it is less lipophilic, its affinity for cellular membranes is significantly reduced, and likewise its effectiveness in fighting an excess of free radicals. Once it has penetrated into the skin, it is converted into tocopherol. However, it has the advantage of being much more stable than tocopherol and of being hydrosoluble. As a consequence, it is more well-suited to be used in cosmetic formulations.
Tocopheryl acetate is insoluble in cold water but soluble in warmed water. It is completely soluble in alcohols and oils. Like tocopherol, it is well-tolerated by the skin.
It is used in most cosmetic formulations not only as a protective agent for the skin against the activity of free radicals, but also to prevent the breakdown of the other components of the formulation itself.
In addition to protecting against UV rays, tocopheryl acetate keeps the skin smooth and soft, because it helps to reduce loss of water from the epidermis and to preserve the skin’s moisture.
Tocopheryl acetate is considered safe for use in cosmetics

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