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Professor Jean Krutmann helms the dermatology and environmental medicine department and is director of the Leibniz Research Institute for Environmental Medicine at the Heinrich Heine University in Dusseldorf, Germany. He was recently in town to attend the International Pigment Cell Conference at Shangri-La Hotel.

He has worked on skincare products with La Roche-Posay and SkinCeuticals and gives us the low-down on antioxidants.

In times of environmental stress – infrared radiation, cigarette smoke, pollution, sun damage and heat – the level of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in the body can rise dramatically and cause cellular deterioration. ROS is a category of damaging oxygen molecules, including free radicals.
An antioxidant is a molecule which neutralises ROS and halts cell damage.

Topical vitamins C and E have been proven to enter the skin and provide protection against cellular damage.

However, for topical application to be effective, certain conditions must be met.

Vitamin C must be in its pure form – L-Ascorbic acid. Vitamin C derivatives, such as ascorbyl palmitate and magnesium ascorbyl phosphate, are not absorbed by the skin or converted to vitamin C in significant concentrations.

Other factors, such as its stability, concentration (the maximum concentration which can be absorbed by the skin is 20 per cent) and a low PH level (3.5 and below), are also crucial.

Vitamin C also protects the skin from damaging UVA and UVB rays, is anti-inflammatory and boosts collagen production for firmer skin.

Vitamin E is the body’s most important fat-soluble antioxidant, with significant functions in the lipid-structure of the skin. Pure vitamin E is most potent in its biologically active form – alpha-tocopherol. This can be found in natural oils, such as sunflower oil and wheatgerm oil.

To apply, spread antioxidants across the face (avoiding the eye area), neck and chest. There is no need to massage the product in, just lightly tap it into the skin. During the day, follow up with a broad-spectrum sunscreen.

This article was first run in The Straits Times newspaper on October 24, 2014. For similar stories, go to You will not be able to access the Premium section of The Straits Times website unless you are already a subscriber.