You may be familiar with the term “free radicals” on skin and haircare labels, mainly in the context of these products being able to fight them (with what’s known as “antioxidants”). But what are free radicals exactly and why does your skin – especially scalp-skin – need protecting from them?
What are free radicals?
Free radicals are a brand of ‘zombified’ molecules that attack healthy skin tissue. To get super technical for a minute (*lab goggles on*): a molecule is a group of two or more atoms, which represents the smallest physical unit of an element (like oxygen or water), which is able to take part in a chain reaction with other chemicals. Molecules contain sub-atomic particles called electrons that are negatively charged. Free radical molecules are unstable because they are missing one of these electrons – so in order to stabilise themselves, they steal electrons from other molecules, which then renders those molecules unstable. This causes free radicals to spread throughout the body, ‘infecting’ new cells like zombies in a horror film and leaving a trail of damage in their wake.
How do they affect the scalp?
Although we need a certain amount of free radicals in our body to fight viruses and bacteria, too many of them can cause problems – not least to the skin and scalp-skin. This is because when a free radical steals an electron, the cell’s DNA becomes damaged which then speeds up the ageing process. On a bigger scale where our skin and hair follicles are concerned, this leads to wrinkles, unwanted pigmentation, grey hair – and even hair loss over time.
How to protect your scalp against them
The good news is that you can fight free radicals with the help of antioxidants (you may remember those from earlier). These are special compounds that are able to give up an extra electron to a free radical without becoming unstable themselves, thereby ending the chain of destruction free radicals cause. Rich sources of antioxidants are Vitamins A, C and E, beta-carotene, lycopene and selenium. You can find these both in the foods you eat and the products you apply to your skin.
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This article has been checked and verified by MONPURE’s resident dermatologist Dr Sue Ann Chan.