When I was in my twenties, it was easy to stick to the belief that anything claiming to have ‘anti-ageing’ properties was just an overused marketing ploy. My 20s, alas, were a decade when it never crossed my mind that I would be getting older. Now looking forward to, erm, the big 4-0 in just a few years, my suspicions have morphed into a concerned interest about whether what I eat and what I put on my skin can, in fact, slow down the process of skin ageing. I have also only just begun to realise that I am in or will someday be in the category of ‘mature skin’. But rather than look to the big brands’ anti-ageing promises to halt the wrinkles in their tracks, my philosophy is to seek out food and skincare products crammed with antioxidants.
Helen Gardiner B. Nat., B Herb. MED, naturopath and a medical herbalist at the Hale Clinic, says that the main cause of skin ageing is UV exposure, which depletes antioxidant levels. That, along with smoking, alcohol and insomnia, she adds, is what makes a difference to skin looking younger or older than its years. Good skin is resilient to those challenges. In other words, people can help slow the anti-ageing process via consumption of antioxidants. ‘Studies have shown that animals with high levels of antioxidants live longer, all other things being equal,’ she says. ‘This is because antioxidants slow down the progression of chronic illnesses such as cancer and heart disease.’
Yet it is the cosmetic function of antioxidants that I’ve always been sceptical of. How can putting a cream on your skin make a difference? ‘Think of a rusty pole,’ says Gardiner. ‘You wonder why oxygen – which is vital to life – also enables this rusting process. Oxygen is in, part a problem for our bodies. The air we breathe has O2, or oxygen paired. Free radicals are highly reactive chemicals that have one or more unpaired electrons, and are therefore an oxidant. These oxidants need to be quenched.’
Former Ecologist editor and natural health expert Pat Thomas helps to paint a mental picture. ‘If you imagine your skin as a dynamic living surface, pollution and sun or whatever is always interacting with the surface. Those interactions create free radicals, which can damage the skin, and are major causes of premature ageing. High antioxidant products keep free radical generation to a minimum. Certain skin products help prevent damage on the surface and superficial layers of your skin. So in other words they support the antioxidants you ingest.’
The main antioxidants are vitamins A, C and E as well as minerals such as selenium and polyphenols, found in certain plants. The trick is to get our skin, our largest organ, to absorb these antioxidants. ‘Beneath the skin’s outermost layer are water soluble compounds but it’s hard to get vitamins to absorb deep into the skin,’ says Gardiner. ‘Vitamin C is excellent but how do you get it inside your skin? Vitamin E is the easiest to get into your skin.’
How to get a natural antioxidant boost
Eat it: Bursting with flavour and colour (a good indicator of proanthocyanidines - all foods that are blue red and orange), blueberries’ claim to fame comes from the fact that they are the food with the highest levels of antioxidants. High in Vitamin C and fibre, they have been shown to help prevent Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. In season from June, you would do well to take advantage of the summer glut and freeze some for year-round use in cereals, smoothies, desserts or pancakes. If blueberries aren’t to hand, look for Acai or Goji berries.
Wear it: Neal’s Yard Remedies’ Power Berry Facial Mask, £24
This is a real wake up call for the face – a gel mask that left my face feeling lighter, and brighter – and yes, younger. It has antioxidant compounds found naturally in Acai, grape and blueberry. The cranberry seed powder brightens and helps regenerate skin and is rich in Omega 3 and 6 to reinforce the skins lipophilic film for optimum moisturisation. The Fairtrade, organic mask was my clear favourite and a real facial boost that I will definitely return to.
Find out more: www.nealsyardremedies.com
Or why not try… Yes to Blueberries.
A new range from the makers of the fabulous Yes to Carrots range, the newly introduced ‘age refresh’ range is for ‘mature skin’, and promises results in just four weeks. Fresh and free from nasties such as parabens, SLS and petroleum, it’s offers anti-ageing efficacy without harming the planet.
Find out more: www.yestocarrots.com
Eat it: When cooking, I’m never far from a pot of fresh parsley. With a couple of snips, fresh chopped parsley can transform a good meal into one that dazzles. A couple of tablespoons will add a tasty punch to salads, couscous, omelettes, meats or chicken. Or go the whole hog with parsley-rich tabouleh. And it doesn’t just taste good: parsley is rich in vitamin C and polyphenols. Keep a fresh pot of parsley on your windowsill year-round – just remember to water it regularly.
Wear it: Aesop Parsley Seed skincare
The range includes a skin serum (£43), toner (£43) and cleanser (£39). Since launching in 1987, Aesop has built up cult status despite being fiercely independent and shunning celebrity patronage. The Parsley Seed range stays true to their belief that long-term use of antioxidant-rich skincare can reduce spots and over-pigmentation.
Find out more: www.aesop.com
Or why not try… Organic Burst
If you’re in the market for a quick-fix, baobab, known as the ‘tree of life’ in Africa is rich in vitamin C and calcium, and contains B vitamins, magnesium, iron, phosphorous and antioxidants. Until Organic Burst arrived, you’d have been hard pressed to find a baobab product in the UK. Now, the Soil Association certified baobab fruit powder will, by adding a tablespoon or two in your morning juice or water, give a natural boost to your system. Organic Burst works with the charity ‘PhytoTrade Africa’, which recognises the potential of baobab to help impoverished African communities.
Find out more: www.organicburst.com
Eat it: Feeling guilty about eating chocolate? Don’t. Just eat the right kind. Not too processed, not too much milk and preferably organic. Cocoa itself is an antioxidant with high levels of magnesium. The best chocolate, says former Ecologist health editor Pat Thomas is the least adulterated. Read up on the Ecologist’s guide to buying ethical chocolate here.
Wear it: Akamuti Chocolate Marshmallow Facemask, £7.96
I was severely tempted to taste this delicious smelling powder which, when mixed with a couple of tablespoons of water, becomes a yummy looking chocolate paste. After five minutes, during which time it dried and turned light brown, it washes off to a smoother refreshed face. But alas, I wouldn’t recommend for sensitive skin. Something in the mixture irritated my face, which remained red for a good 45 minutes.
Find out more: www.akamuti.co.uk
Green and white tea
Drink it: High in polyphenols, green tea is one the most best antioxidants around and is thought to help slow the growth of cancer cells. For sceptics, there have been numerous studies detailing effects as wide ranged as lowering cholesterol. Professor Declan Naughton, Biomolecular Science at Kingston University studied the health benefits of white tea, amongst other foods. ‘It appeared that drinking a simple cup of white tea might well help reduce an individual’s risk of cancer, rheumatoid arthritis or even just age-associated wrinkles,’ he said.
Wear it: Aubrey Organics Green Tea and Green Clay rejuvenating mask, £8.98
The green clay helps draw out impurities, which, mixed with the green tea, helps dehydrated and dull skin look and feel new.
Find out more: www.aubreyorganicsuk.co.uk
Tried and tested: facial oils
No longer is moisturiser the only way to hydrate your skin. Thanks to Shu Uemura’s pioneering oil-based range, facial oils are becoming a serious alternative to traditional creams. But which are the most planet friendly?
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Tucked away in leafy Gloucestershire is a beauty brand with a ‘beyond organic’ philosophy that’s making the world sit up and take notice. Ruth Styles hopped on the train and went to meet the inspirational Denise Leicester
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The Ecologist A to Z of beauty goodies
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Special report How safe is cosmetic surgery?
In the wake of the PIP implant scandal, the Ecologist examines the cosmetic surgery industry and asks what impact it is having on the health of patients and the environment