What exactly are free radicals? It’s a term that’s thrown around a lot in the beauty industry, yet for many of us it's unclear how they affect our skin or why they're so feared.
According to celebrity esthetician and skincare expert Renée Rouleau, free radicals are unstable electrons that attack our healthy cells, causing signs of aging to appear. "It is widely believed by scientists around the world that one of the main reasons we age is because unstable electrons in molecules (called free radicals) attack healthy cells and change their composition, which causes them to no longer function the way normal, younger cells do," she explains. So in order to stave off aging, we need to stave off those villainous free radicals.
That's where vitamin C comes in. Its effect is immediate and visible, at least according to a viral photo and video, respectively, that are currently circulating the Internet.
First, we must understand exactly how free radicals work to damage the skin: There are three types of free radicals, but Rouleau is mainly concerned with the reactive oxygen species (ROS). "We are exposed to ROS from the air we breathe (oxygen), cigarette smoke, UV sunlight, stress, and smog," she says. The effects of ROS are no joke: They damage the dermis of the skin and alter DNA, the moisture barrier, skin texture, color, and cell functioning.
To demonstrate the effects of ROS and oxidative stress to the naked eye—and to prove how vitamin C works to combat them—Rouleau devised a simple experiment involving an apple. She cut out a single slice and coated one end with a thin layer of vitamin C serum. The other she left completely untouched. Then she waited three hours. This is what happened…
As you can plainly see, the side of the apple that was coated with the vitamin C serum didn't oxidize at all. "This shows how topical vitamin C can prevent oxidation and therefore slow down the visible appearance of aging," Rouleau says. She notes that lemon juice would have the same effects, as lemon (like most other fruits) contain high levels of antioxidants. However, putting lemon on your face is never a good idea. It might provide your skin with antioxidant benefits, but it will do so at the expense of insanely irritated, dry skin (seriously, please don't put pure lemon juice on your face).
Rouleau's photo is enough to make us want to slather our faces in a safe and effective vitamin C serum.