Free radicals

London-based facialist and skincare specialist Abigail James explains: “Free radicals are molecules with an unpaired electron, which makes them unstable. I like to view these crazy over-active cells desperate to find an electron from another cell to calm themselves down and rebalance. How they do this is by attaching themselves to the nearest healthy cell to steal an electron to balance themselves.” … She continues, “However, this doesn’t have the desired effect, as it turns the unsuspecting healthy cell into another free radical, so you now have two crazy cells wanting to balance themselves from other healthy cells, and the process goes on. Transferring cells from calm and balanced into unstable free radicals is a little bit like the domino effect, causing damage to other cells around them and resulting in damaged tissues.1

What are They?

A free radical is any chemical species having an unpaired electron that primarily begins damage during active metabolic turnover.2 As free molecules, they are everywhere: the air, our bodies, and the surrounding environment.1 Developed by Denham Harman, the Free Radical Theory states that “accumulated free radical damage and oxidative stress alter biochemical and cellular processes as [ageing] damage accumulates.”3 Having been discussed for 50 years, the Free Radical Theory is the most widely accepted of the 20-30 theories of ageing. 3 Oxidative stress occurs when there is a greater amount of damage than internal defences (such as antioxidants), and leads to a stressful, unbalanced environment that can overwhelm the body as a whole. This kind of oxidative stress can be fought via physiologic reserves while younger, but when older, this reservoir is depleted. As the process continues, an increased rate of ageing is experienced and eventually, individuals are prone to illnesses such as diabetes, atherosclerosis, strokes, or cancer – all known as “diseases of ageing.”3

There is a difference between illnesses relating to infection and diseases of ageing. Infection, injury, or traumas are all consequential to the occurrence of an event. They are not related to the ageing process, but instead, related to being human. However, not all forms of oxidative stress have equal impact on the ageing process. What is known is that inflammation is always present within free radical damage. When the immune system is overloaded, ageing occurs more rapidly, and this fact brings a new meaning to the term anti-ageing.

What do they do? 

As free radical damage occurs, cells and tissues are damaged. Consequently, inflammation occurs as the targeted cells release chemicals in an attempt to destroy the damage. But the problem occurs when more than the damaged areas are affected. While inflammation is meant to be a good thing in theory, it ends up affecting normal, healthy tissues and cells as well. This is how the danger of inflammation is illustrated. 

Free radicals have the power to degrade plastics and works of art, fade paint and fruit, and promote premature ageing: this is how powerful free radicals are. 1 This is oxidation, and the amount in the body is known as oxidative stress. Dr. Stephen Byrnes explains: “High levels of oxidative stress affect every organ and system in the body and have been linked with everything from Alzheimer’s disease, arteriosclerosis, cancer and heart disease to accelerated [ageing], asthma, diabetes and leaky gut syndrome. Oxidative stress is believed to lead to the development of the most prevalent chronic diseases and disorders killing adults today, especially heart disease, cancer and diabetes… Oxidation lays the foundation for the proliferation of free radicals and damage to cells, muscles, tissue, organs, etc.”4

Where are they found?

80 percent of free radical damage comes from the sun – and thinking back to what is generally known about skincare, this will most likely not come as a surprise. Damage from the sun can only lead to pre-mature ageing through free radicals, as inflammation comes in to confront affected areas and spreads to healthy areas. Photons, or highly charged electrons, are the molecules found in solar rays and other light molecules. High energy, free electrons = free radicals. 

What about the rest of the body? Normal, healthy cells are responsible for free radical damage as a result of metabolic processes. After breathing in oxygen, it is used in bodily reactions to burn nutrients (or “fuel” – sugar, fat, and proteins) to create energy. When a cell makes extra energy, radicals are created and then release themselves, as they are not part of the fuel to energy mechanism. Thus, free radicals are actively within benign cells, having “free” reign to do whatever they wish, most notably invading and damaging structures. The reason the skin is most associated with free radical damage is because it is the body’s first line of defence. Not only are free radicals damaging the cells like they do internally (internal cellular metabolism), they are coming from the environment: the ozone, pollutants, certain sunscreens, alcohol, stress, poor nutrition, obesity, and toxins. 3  Smoking delivers free radicals upon each inhale.

To review, major sources of free radicals include: 

  1. Exposure to radiation
  2. Exposure to other environmental pollutants
  3. Consumption of cigarettes or tobacco, drugs, and alcohol
  4. Certain medications or high use of antibiotics
  5. High amounts of emotional or physical stress
  6. Too much exercise (overtraining), which generates added free radicals
  7. A poor diet that includes foods like unhealthy fats, too much sugar, pesticides, herbicides, or synthetic additives

Basically, the entire Western lifestyle promotes the largest sources of free radical damage:  “Processed foods, absence of healthy whole foods, reliance on medications and antibiotics, common use of alcohol or drugs, environmental pollutants, and high stress levels.” 4 

Why do we have them?

Although free radicals receive negative press, certain parts of the body use them for beneficial reasons. The liver both produces and uses free radicals for detoxification processes (i.e. the breakdown and detoxification of alcohol intake). White blood cells also use free radicals for beneficial reasons: to destroy bacteria, viruses, and damaged cells that might be undergoing apoptosis, thus protecting the body from potential illness. 4 This is the free radical paradox – they both cause and prevent illness. Unfortunately, the former wins in this scenario, as they damage DNA, cellular membranes, enzymes, and fats stored within the body. And as a reminder, enzymes are a part of every chemical process within the body. Bad news!

How to Support them

The term “antioxidant” is a buzzword for a reason – free radical damage is one of the four natural effects of ageing. They are mediators—stable cells that give safety to the “crazy” free radicals that spin out of control. Antioxidants are the mechanism through which the body neutralises free radicals through absorption and stop the consequential waterfall of molecular damage. Similar to the way vitamins function, there are both lipid-soluble antioxidants and those with an affinity for water. Lipid-soluble antioxidants, such as vitamin E, reach for the lipid-based (fatty areas) of cells. On the contrary, “aqueous antioxidants,” such as vitamin C, provide protection for the water-based portions of cells. Like with diets, nutritionists always say it is more beneficial to “eat” vitamins instead of supplementing in the form of a pill. Similarly, some antioxidants are already existent within the body – they are made internally, function independently, and the majority are enzymes. Extrinsic antioxdiants have to be ingested or applied, which is why griffin+row formulated the centess+complexTM, uniquely designed to provide a synergistic blend of the purest plant extracts and natural ingredient. The specific inclusion of centipeda cunninghamii and agonis fragrans in was to target free radical damage, and vitis vinifera (grape seed extract) and santalum spicatum (sandalwood essential oil) have both stabilising properties and powerful antioxidant capacity.

Antioxidants gain their strength from being able to donate their own electrons to free radicals. Once electrons are coupled up, they are stable and no longer in a free and harmful state of being. As soon as that happens, the process of damage is immediately halted, thus limiting unnecessary damage to healthy surrounding areas. Specific antioxidants that one should be commonly mindful of including are: vitamins A, C and E, beta-carotene, bioflavonoids, CoQ10, selenium, and zinc. 4 Even cholesterol (!) has antioxidant power: it repairs damaged blood vessels and minimizes the oxidation process. When someone is described as being in “oxidative stress,” that simply means there are more free radicals than the present antioxidants can neutralise. griffin+row products were effectively designed so the skin always had an abundant source of potent antioxidants. 

Because skin cells are the first external line of defence, many things that impact the skin don’t ever reach the cells far into the body. Even though many foods are known to be antioxidant rich, as little as one percent of what is taken orally reaches the skin. This illustrates why topical antioxidants are critically important to overall skin health. In looking for a good skincare protect with antioxidant protection, they must be high-quality, stable (i.e. the stable form of vitamin C), and in the purest form. 3;This is not the part of a skincare ritual to skimp. A high-quality antioxidant serum or moisturiser will be able to work through the epidermis and penetrate the interior of the cell. This is how the neutralisation process will occur. 

griffin+row moisturisers, specifically the Enrich – Antioxidant night cream, provide a generous amount of antioxidant protection. Within Enrich is not only the centess+complexTM, but also sweet almond oil, jojoba oil, rosemary extract, natural vitamin E, rosehip fruit oil, lavender oil, and grapefruit seed extract—a whole array of generous antioxidants. Lavender is a potent polyphenol and antioxidant that also is anti-apoptotic and stimulates collagen activity. Rosemary extract, also an antioxidant, is soothing, protective of elastin and collagen, and promotes hyaluronic acid production.  By strengthening the skin’s natural immune response and replenishing lipid content, the skin’s overall health is reinforced. There are over twenty essential oils in this product that help this moisturiser be a naturally effective treatment, providing nutrients and hydration that the skin craves. Each product created as a brand focuses on cocktails of pure plant extracts and are known specifically for their antioxidant and regenerative properties, meaning each ingredient has a purpose. The antioxidant barriers that are formed as a result help to maintain an impenetrable defence against pollution and other environmental stressors, which illustrates the overall functionality of the centess+complexTM. 

A very important fact to consider when discussing the skin’s relationship with antioxidants is how harmful and powerful the sun actually is. While most know that too much sun is “bad,” few know why this actually is true. As explained by Poljsak et al., “Although the skin possesses an elaborate antioxidant defence system to deal with UV-induced oxidative stress and immunotoxicity, excessive and chronic exposure to UV light can overwhelm the cutaneous antioxidant and immune response capacity, leading to oxidative damage and immunotoxicity, premature skin [ageing], and skin cancer.” 2 In other terms, the sun has the power to damage antioxidants’ defence system of neutralisation, which means residually spreading inflammation. This is why griffin+row chose to include an antioxidant complex in all products. 

And the popular question, “Will high quality skincare products with antioxidants make me look younger?” Yes, they will help reduce free radical damage…but don’t expect to look 20 years younger instantaneously. What antioxidants do help with is this: improve cell function, increase collagen production, improve elasticity, reduce sun damage, and overall, help skin cells be their healthiest.1

How to Fight Free Radical Damage:

  1. Start eating more foods that are rich in antioxidants, such as brightly coloured fruits and vegetables, berries, grapes, red wine, herbs and spices, essential oils, white tea, and dark chocolate.
  2. Avoid toxin or pollutant exposure by avoiding polluted water, toxic cosmetic products, overusing medications, lowering stress, getting regular amounts of exercise, and trying to normalise blood sugar and cholesterol levels.4
  3. Wear sunscreen, preferably physical and not chemical, with UVA and UVB protection.
  4. Use high quality skincare products with antioxidant protection! Each of the griffin+row products contains the centess+complexTM to provide the skin thorough and generous protection.

  5. References

    1. Haria, S. (2015, November 12). Skin Series: What on Earth Are Free Radicals? Retrieved from

    2. Poljsak, B., Glavan, U., & Dahmane, R. (2011). Skin Cancer, Free Radicals and Antioxidants.

      International Journal of Cancer Research and Prevention, 4(3), 193-217. Retrieved from

    3. DeHaven, C. (2014, June). Oxidative Stress And Free Radical Damage To Skin. Retrieved from

    4. Axe, J. (2017, December 12). Fighting Free Radicals & Free Radical Damage. Retrieved from