Slowing Skin Aging by Limiting Oxidative Stress

By Dr. Ari Kasprowicz-Calhoun ND


There is one factor common to intrinsic and extrinsic aging:

Skin aging can be boiled down into two main forms: intrinsic (chronological) aging and extrinsic (photo) aging.

Intrinsic aging is considered to be the inevitable form of aging that is attributed to hormonal decline, immune decline, and genetic variation.

Extrinsic aging, on the other hand, is believed to contribute to 80-90% of the overall cause of skin aging and is primarily attributed to preventable factors, most notably sun exposure.

Interestingly enough, both of these processes have a similar mechanism at play, known as oxidative stress.

The dangers of oxidative stress:

Oxidative stress is essentially an imbalance between the production of free radicals, also known as reactive oxygen species (ROS), and free radical neutralization by antioxidants. Oxidative stress is considered to be the basis of the majority of disease and dysfunction, including neurological disorders, cancer, cardiovascular disease, mood disorders, and chronic fatigue, as well as general aging. These free radicals are unstable molecules that react negatively with other substances within our body, increasing inflammation, damaging our cell membranes, and damaging DNA, eventually leading to the decline of overall structure and function.

Oxidative stress and the skin:

Your skin is undergoing constant renew and repair, with old cells dying and shedding and new cells being created on a continual basis. Optimal dermal health thus requires optimal DNA and protein synthesis. Oxidative stress impairs this process, leading to cell mutations and premature aging.

The skin is full of lipids, proteins, and DNA, all targets of oxidative stress. Within the skin, oxidative stress results in the following:

Degrades Collagen: ROS cause an activation of matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs), a set of enzymes which includes collagenase. Collagenase is an enzyme that degrades collagen, a group of proteins responsible for the structure of most tissues within our body. Collagen is known for its role in keeping skin appearing youthful, contributing to the skin’s strength and framework. With MMP damage to collagen, the fibers become more cross-linked and rigid, resulting in deep wrinkles, dry skin, and a rough leathery texture.

Blocks collagen synthesis: As you age, your collagen synthesis declines. Oxidative stress further amplifies this process by activating AP-1, a signalling molecule which stimulates a pathway that blocks collagen synthesis.

Impairs the structure and function of elastin. Elastin is also a necessary protein, contributing to the skin’s elasticity, allowing the skin to return to a relaxed state after facial expressions. With aging, elastin production slows and existing elastin breaks down, resulting in crows eyes, frown lines, wrinkles around the lips, and so on.

Increases Inflammation: Local inflammation within the skin essentially recruits the enzymes responsible for degrading collagen and other proteins within the matrix of the skin. Furthermore, inflammation causes the release of ROS, triggering a destructive cycle. Inflammation is also responsible for redness, blotchiness, and impaired wound healing.

Telomere shortening: Telomeres are compound structures present at the end of chromosomes. With each cell replication, telomeres get shorter. As the telomere is shortened, the DNA ages, eventually leading to cell death. ROS cause mutations in telomeres, thus contributing to premature aging.

Protecting yourself from oxidative stress:

Unfortunately, free radicals are an inevitable occurrence, as many of our metabolic processes which are necessary for life create them on a regular basis. That being said, we can influence the extent to which these free radicals are produced, as well as increase our body’s antioxidant supply, in order to give our body a fighting chance.

Avoiding lifestyle factors that INCREASE oxidative stress:

  • UV radiation from the sun: contributes to 80-90% of skin aging
  • Smoking (both primary and secondary cigarette smoke)
  • Environmental pollution: car/plane/vehicle pollution, water pollution, food pollution
  • Ionizing radiation from x-rays
  • Heavy metals within fish and water
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Charbroiling food which creates polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
  • Fungal exposure, including molds in the household and on food
  • Oils heated at high temperatures (especially those with low smoke points)
  • Hydrogenated fats AKA trans fats
  • Excess dietary sugar
  • Alcohol
  • Stress
  • Chemicals within hygiene and cleaning products


UV radiation from the sun contributes to 80-90% of skin aging. So remember your sunscreen! Click To Tweet


Lifestyle factors that DECREASE oxidative stress:

  • Avoiding Environmental Exposure:
    • Wearing sunscreen and/or opt for natural self-tanner
    • Rolling up windows on the interstate to avoid contact with traffic particulate matter
    • Air filters and dehumidifiers within the home will help eliminate air pollutants and lower risk for mold, respectively
    • Drink CLEAN WATER: reverse osmosis is known to do a great job at stripping harmful chemicals, but it also strips beneficial minerals (be sure to replenish with supplemental minerals).


  • Avoid common sources of ROS in food:
    • Fats/Oils:
      • Do not heat oils above their smoke point
      • Store oils in a tinted bottle, in a dark cool place, and away from the stove
      • Be sure to check all fats for expiration date, and never use a fat that smells sour or rancid
      • Avoid all deep-fried foods
    • Nuts:
      • Choose nuts that are raw and whole
      • Store nuts in fridge or freezer
    • Meat:
      • Always buy organic, grass-fed meat
      • Do not cook past medium or medium-rare
    • Fish:
      • Choose fish that are wild-caught and low in mercury
    • Charbroiled Food:
      • AVOID IT: do not roast or grill your meat or vegetables to a charred or blackened state


  • Increasing your antioxidant stores and lowering oxidative burden:
  • Within the diet: Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables. These contain polyphenols, a natural source of antioxidants:
    • Green leafy’s, Berries, Broccoli, Carrots, Tomatoes, Beets, Nuts and Seeds
    • Vitamin antioxidants
    • Vitamin A, Vitamin E, Vitamin C, Niacinamide
  • Minerals that act as cofactors in free radical neutralization:
    • Selenium, Zinc, Magnesium, Copper
  • Other supplemental antioxidants:
    • Glutathione, NAC, ALA, Coenzyme Q10
  • Polyphenols and plant extracts:
    • Anthocyanins, Carotenoids, EGCG, Resveratrol, Pycnogenol, Lycopene
  • Whole Herbs:
    • Curcuma longa, Allium sativum, Silymarin, Aloe vera, Centella Asiatica, Camellia Sinensis


  • Optimal Hormone Regulation:
    • Estrogen suppresses ROS production and stimulates antioxidant enzyme expression


Consultation with a physician is recommended before initiating any supplement or herb within your healthcare routine

Following a balanced lifestyle, avoiding unprotected sun exposure, and choosing optimal nutrition from whole foods will help you to keep your youthful appearance as long as your genetics will allow. Contact us to receive extra help in regaining your healthy balance, or to help repair pre-existing damage from the inside out.


We Can Help:

North County Natural Medicine has collected many powerful natural approaches under one roof, here in Encinitas. Our naturopathic MDs can get you healthy from the inside out. Our caring acupuncturist specializes in skin health and anti-aging. Our naturopaths offer medical-grade facial services (including PRP therapy) and IV nutrition supplementation that can help strengthen skin, diminish scars and grow new collagen.

Schedule a consultation and let us customize a treatment plan for you.

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