Reactive Oxygen Species: Vitamin C and E

Understanding the impact of Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) on our skin health is crucial. Reactive oxygen species are a subset of free radicals capable of independent existence, containing at least one oxygen atom and one or more unpaired electrons. Under physiological conditions, ROS are formed during cell processes, such as aerobic respiration or inflammatory processes, mainly in hepatocytes and macrophages (Jakubczyk, 2020). Environmental stressors, such as ultraviolet (UV) rays and air pollutants, also generate ROS that can contribute to structural damage of the skin. 

The widely accepted free radical theory of aging (FRTA) proposes that the accumulation of oxidative damage caused by ROS is one of the primary causes of aging (Shields, 2021). The tendency for free radicals to steal electrons to stabilize themselves can be problematic in cells, where they may cause oxidative damage to macromolecules such as DNA, proteins and lipids (Pham-Huy, 2008). When DNA is exposed to ROS, guanine is modified to 8-oxoguanine, allowing it to pair with cytosine and adenine. This mutation can occur in both nuclear and mitochondrial DNA and can give rise to double stranded breaks in the DNA (Shields, 2021). 

As one of the most well-known antioxidants, vitamin C is capable of reducing oxidative damage by scavenging excess ROS. Vitamin C protects the skin from oxidative stress by donating electrons to neutralize free radicals. Oxidative stress induces nuclear transcription factor kappa B (NFkB). This produces several mediators that contribute to inflammation and skin ageing. Vitamin C can inhibit NFkB, contributing to a more youthful appearance (Telang, 2013). 

The functional limitations of aging skin include reduced “turnover of the epidermis” (slower epidermal cell cycle) due to a deficiency of niacinamide adenosine dinucleotide phosphate (NADP) in aging cells. Niacinamide increases the reduced forms of NADP, which have potent antioxidant properties. These cofactors and their reduced forms serve as reduction-oxidation coenzymes in more than 40 cellular biochemical reactions. Thus, niacinamide has the potential to exert multiple effects on skin and is a promising anti-aging cosmeceutical ingredient (Levin, 2010). 

Recognizing the impact of Reactive Oxygen Species on skin aging highlights the importance of antioxidants. Environmental stressors generate ROS, causing oxidative damage. Antioxidants like Vitamin C and niacinamide play crucial roles in neutralizing ROS and promoting a more resilient and youthful skin appearance. 


Jakubczyk, K., Dec, K., Kałduńska, J., Kawczuga, D., Kochman, J., & Janda, K. (2020). Reactive oxygen species - sources, functions, oxidative damage. Polski merkuriusz lekarski : organ Polskiego Towarzystwa Lekarskiego, 48(284), 124–127.  

Levin, J., & Momin, S. B. (2010). How much do we really know about our favorite cosmeceutical ingredients?. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology, 3(2), 22–41.  

Pham-Huy L. A., He H., Pham-Huy C. (2008). Free radicals, antioxidants in disease and health. Int. J. Biomed. Sci. 4 89–96.  

Shields, H. J., Traa, A., & Van Raamsdonk, J. M. (2021). Beneficial and Detrimental Effects of Reactive Oxygen Species on Lifespan: A Comprehensive Review of Comparative and Experimental Studies. Frontiers in cell and developmental biology, 9, 628157. /fcell.2021.628157  

Telang P. S. (2013). Vitamin C in dermatology. Indian dermatology online journal, 4(2), 143–146.