Free-radicals – What are they, and what do they do?

Skincare lovers and health enthusiasts alike are sure to have come across the term ‘free radicals’. But what are they? How do they affect us? And how can we manage them?

The science

To understand the causes and effects of free radicals, we need to understand the science behind them. Free radicals are unstable atoms. All atoms are surrounded by layers, or shells, of electrons. Each of these shells needs to be filled with a certain number of electrons to be stable. If an atom’s outer layer isn’t full, it can bond with another type of atom - a free radical - and use its electrons to complete the shell.

However, while the atoms with full outer shells are stable, free radicals are not. They have an uneven number of electrons, which means they react quickly with other substances. In their attempt to bond with other atoms or molecules to become stable, they start a long chemical chain reaction called oxidative stress, or oxidation. Oxidation is something we all notice on a regular basis. For instance, when we leave a piece of fruit out in the kitchen for too long, we’ll see it turn brown and deteriorate. This is a perfect example of oxidative stress.

Free radical damage

In the body, it’s oxidative stress that leads to cell damage and illness, especially when we get older and become less efficient in fighting back. When our bodies become overwhelmed, and there are too many free radicals for us to regulate, they start to attack and adversely alter our lipids, proteins and DNA1. This can trigger diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer and degenerative conditions like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

Free radicals also have detrimental effects on the skin. They can damage our skin cell DNA which can stop them from functioning correctly – for example the cells that form our skin’s immune system or fibroblasts which generate our collagen.

They are not only detrimental to our skin health but are also responsible for premature skin ageing leading to lines and wrinkles, pigmentation and an uneven skin tone. You won’t see the effects of free radicals immediately. But over the long-term, you’ll notice real damage to the skin.

How to stop free radicals

Free radicals are released for lots of reasons, with some of the main causes being sunlight, pollution, smoking, alcohol and pesticides. But reassuringly, there are ways to stop them in their tracks.

First of all there are steps you can take to reduce free radicals in the skin. Adequate sun protection, every single day is essential in limiting the damage caused by radiation. Smoking is a big no-go, as well as excessive alcohol consumption. Limiting high glycemic and processed foods will also help to limit free radical damage.

Another key player in the fight against free radicals is anti-oxidants. These molecules have the unique ability to donate an electron to a free radical and stabilise it without becoming unstable themselves. One way to obtain anti-oxidants is through an anti-oxidant rich diet. Some of the best anti-oxidant ingredients are berries, citrus fruits, leafy greens, nuts, figs, dark chocolate, olives, turmeric, cinnamon and garlic2. You can also enjoy a great dose of anti-oxidants through herbal teas, green juice, pomegranate juice and coconut water.

Anti-oxidant rich skincare

What’s more, anti-oxidants can be applied topically, absorbing into the skin to protect skin cells from free radicals. Some of the best anti-oxidants in skincare include vitamin C, vitamin E and green tea extract, all of which are present in our award-winning Heliocare 360° range, along with the powerful plant extract Fernblock®.

Fernblock features in every Heliocare product. It’s a powerful and unique anti-oxidant that’s proven to help protect the skin against sun damage and environmental stressors, as well as offering DNA protection and repair, immunological defence, protection for our collagen and pigmentation control.

You can also step-up your free radical protection with the Endocare Radiance serum which contains EDAFENCE® , a powerful anti-pollution technology that also helps to protect the skin against damage caused by tobacco.

You can get the very best deal on the Heliocare 360° Water Gel and Endocare RADIANCE C Ferulic EDAFENCE® Serum with our exclusive Face the Day kit, available with savings of 25%. It contains everything your skin needs to be protected from daylight and free radicals, plus collagen and hydration boosters for a smoother, brighter and all-importantly healthier complexion.


Lobo, V., Patil, A., Phatak, A. and Chandra, N. (2010). Free radicals, antioxidants and functional foods: Impact on human health. Pharmacognosy Reviews, [online] 4(8), p.118. Available at: ‌

Dix, M. (2017). Everything You Should Know About Oxidative Stress. [online] Healthline. Available at:


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Age Active Fluid
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Endocare RADIANCE C Ferulic EDAFENCE Serum
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