top of page

The Importance Of Lipophilic Antioxidants

Free radical damage is one of the principal mechanisms of aging. Free radicals are highly and indiscriminately reactive chemicals that can damage any structure in living cells. Topical antioxidants provide additional protection against free radical damage as they supplement the sometimes inadequate antioxidant systems of the skin. They can prevent environmental damage to the skin by neutralizing free radicals generated from UV exposure and other outside factors. However, topical antioxidants only have benefits relative to the degree in which they can permeate the epidermis (first surface skin layer) and dermis (deeper, more substantive skin layer).


This degree of permeation is due in part to a substance’s solubility in either oil or water. Water-soluble antioxidants protect the skin against free radical damage in the extracellular and intracellular matrix; that is to say the fluids surrounding cells and the fluids inside cells that are largely water (and thus use water-soluble antioxidants for protection). But the walls of cells are made up of lipids (fats) and are best protected by lipid-soluble antioxidants. This difference in solubility affects the permeation of a product, since when water-soluble ingredients are included in aqueous serums that have a fluid consistency they can penetrate down through the skin more easily as they are incorporated into the extra-cellular fluid (which is mostly water), while as oil-soluble ingredients absorb better through pores (which are channels for skin oils). Aqueous serums make effective treatment products because they are easily absorbed and incorporated into cells due to their water affinity, but oils also play an important role as not only moisturizers but as the most effective delivery system for antioxidants to the lipid-rich cell walls.

Nutritive Oil Therapy


Cells walls not only provide a selective and protective barrier around cells but their protein receptor sites are essential in the actual functioning of the cell itself. In fact, it’s largely recognized in the scientific community that the function of a cell depends just as much on its reaction with its environment (especially in regards to chemical messages it receives through receptor sites) as it does with its DNA genetic coding. These receptor sites take chemical messages from the extracellular fluid and alter the functioning of the cell to adapt to what the body is telling it. More recent research is proving the enormous importance of oil-soluble antioxidants in the function of skin health because they protect these cells walls from free radical damage that otherwise would disrupt protein receptor sites (specifically, this kind of cell damage is in large part from lipid peroxidation, which oil-soluble antioxidants are ideally geared to protect against).


Protecting cell walls from lipid peroxidation is a job especially suited for botanical oils. Unlike silicone oils and petroleum derived mineral oils, key botanical oils have a high phytonutrient content that makes them not only beneficial moisturizers but also treatment ingredients that saturate cells (especially cell walls) in their protective antioxidants. Of the many nutrient-rich oils to choose from, clinical studies have shown these oils to be among the most beneficial to the skin in regards to their antioxidant content: Grapeseed (containing proanthocyanidin polyphenols and resveratrol phytoalexins), Olive Fruit (containing oleuropein and hydroxytyrosol polyphenols), Acai Berry (containg beta-sitosterol, procyanidin polyphenols, and several flavonoids), Blueberry Seed (containing anthocyanins, flavonols, and tannins), Pomegranate Seed (containing punicalagin tannins and catechin polphenols), and Cranberry Seed (containing cyanidins and quercetin).

Mitochondrial Protection


Likewise, there are structures within cells, such as the energy-manufacturing mitochondria, that use oil-soluble antioxidants to protect against free radicals that arise during normal cellular respiration. The most prevalent oil-soluble antioxidant used inside cells is Coenzyme Q10. This enzyme is monumentally important as not only an antioxidant but also as an essential component in the mitochondria of every cell for the production of Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) that is the basic fuel of cells. Clinical studies have shown that coenzyme Q10 does penetrate through the epidermal layer and is easily incorporated into skin cells when applied via a skin care product.


Lipid-soluble antioxidants also perform a more protective role on top of the skin than water-soluble antioxidants. Oils have a natural barrier function on the skin to seal moisture in while shielding the epidermis from oxidizing conditions, so oil-soluble antioxidants also shield against environmental free radical damage before it can penetrate further into the skin. For instance, Alpha Lipoic Acid, Vitamin A, Ascorbyl Palmitate (Vitamin C Ester), and d-alpha-tocopherol (Vitamin E) are all soluble in oil and work synergistically to neutralize free radicals formed by UV exposure. When supplied in a topical skincare product, Vitamin E can regenerate Vitamin C after it has taken on free radicals (especially those free radical generated by sun exposure), and Alpha Lipoic Acid can regenerate both of these nutrients to extend their effectiveness. Vitamin A provides not only additional antioxidant support but also stimulates the production of new skin cells to replace cells that have incurred damage. In this way the network of topically applied surface antioxidants on the skin form a shield against free radical damage before it can even penetrate the epidermal layer, and then Coenzyme Q10 provides protection of cell membranes when free radicals do get through (and, subsequently, also provides protection to the mitochondria against free radicals generated by normal cellular energy production).

bottom of page