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The anti-aging power of antioxidants

By now, we’ve all heard of the amazing health benefits of antioxidants. Not only do they help prevent heart disease, liver disease and certain forms of cancer, they may also offer some protection against neuro-degenerative conditions like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. And, if these reasons aren’t good enough to convince you to start guzzling the pomegranate juice, I can give you another one: antioxidants also help prevent wrinkles.

Antioxidants are substances that protect the body against free radicals, which are unstable molecules that cause damage to cell membranes, lipids, proteins and DNA. Besides wreaking havoc on your insides, free radicals also damage your skin from the outside, and are major contributors to premature aging. The good news is: you can protect your skin from sun damage, and even prevent new wrinkles from forming, by using a combination of oral and topical antioxidants.

One of the best ways to harness the powers of antioxidants is by adding them to your diet. Antioxidants are found in vitamins A, C and E, and in minerals like copper, zinc and selenium; but a number of dietary compounds are believed to offer more powerful antioxidants than even those vitamins and mineral provide. These compounds include lycopene (tomatoes), anthocyanins (cranberries), lutein (leafy greens) and flavonoids (tea, citrus fruits, red wine). Other excellent sources of antioxidants are açai, pomegranate, and herbs and spices, including turmeric, curry, oregano, ginger and cinnamon.

Although antioxidants are also available in supplement form, the jury is still out on whether these are as effective as food sources. Personally, I think supplements are worth taking. In addition to drinking three cups of green tea a day and eating plenty of veggies and fruits, I take a daily 200 mg dose of Coenzyme Q10, which is my favorite single antioxidant — and one that’s proven to fight skin aging. I also take Standard Process OPC Synergy supplements, which are loaded with grape seed extract, and resveratrol, one of the most exciting antioxidant and anti-aging substances we know.

Trendy vitamin waters are another way to get your antioxidant fix, but beware! Many are loaded with sugar, which pretty much cancels out any skin-enhancing properties these products might offer. Try BORBA water or Enviga, which are both sugar-free. Even better are “water booster” drops that you can add to any beverage. They come in dropper-style bottles that you can tuck into your purse, and are the best way to get nutrients when you’re on the go — a dropperful of Dr. Brandt Anti-Oxidant Water Booster, for example, is equivalent to 15 cups of green tea.

When it comes to antioxidants, you don’t need to pick just one; incorporating a variety into your routine is the best approach. In fact, research suggests that certain combinations of antioxidants — lycopene with vitamin E, for example — are more effective together than either would be alone. Just be aware that it’s possible to get too much of a good thing when taking supplements; follow the recommended daily amounts on the bottles, particularly with vitamin E. You should also discontinue taking Vitamin E at least 10 days before having a cosmetic procedure like Botox or dermal fillers, because it can make you more likely to bruise.

To get the full anti-aging benefits of antioxidants, you have to work from the outside in as well as the inside out. In addition to dietary and supplement sources, there are a number of highly effective topical products that really pack an antioxidant punch. Vitamins A, C and E, lycopene, grape seed extract, green tea and pomegranate are all common skincare ingredients, but not every antioxidant is suited to topical application. Cosmetics companies would love to harness the power of açai berry, for example, but unfortunately it has the unwelcome side effect of turning the face blue.

Besides their anti-aging properties, topical antioxidants can also help minimize sun damage, and should be applied twice daily, or 30 minutes before sun exposure. Try REVALÉSKIN® CoffeeBerry® Night Cream, caffeine-enhanced Topix Replenix Cream CF with green tea, and Kiehl’s Lycopene Facial Moisturizing Lotion. Edelweiss, that small white flower from The Sound of Music, is the star ingredient in Darphin VITALPROTECTION, and Clarins Lotus Face Treatment Oil features rosewood and geranium essential oils.

As with all miracle cures, there is a catch: Antioxidants are preventative measures only. They can minimize sun damage and prevent new wrinkles from forming, but, sadly, they won’t make the wrinkles you have already go away. However, when you consider the myriad and delicious dietary sources, the ease of supplementation, the efficacy of topical treatments and the sheer scope of all-over health benefits, I think antioxidants are the single best way to fight premature aging, from the inside out.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some pomegranate juice to guzzle.

— Dr. Leslie Baumann is a Professor of Dermatology and Director of the University of Miami Cosmetic Medicine and Research Institute. Dr. Baumann is the author of the bestselling book "The Skin Type Solution" and the popular blog