Spin Traps: The new Anti-oxidants?


Researched by Ralph Hill - Internet Technology Researcher and WriterResearched by Ralph Hill - Internet Technology Researcher and Writer

One of the new Buzz ingredients in the war on ageing is Spin traps. These cutting edge compounds are known for their ability to bind free radicals, and so have been labelled as marketers of skin care products as the next generation of Free radical destroyers.

So what exactly are spin traps, and do they live up to the hype?

Spin traps are compounds that as the name suggests, have the ability to stabilise or trap free radicals, and so reduce their cascade effect on other molecules.

The more technical term for the Spin Traps would be radical scavenger, as the compounds effectively grab the free radicals and suck them in to the spin trap mass.
Spin Trapping has its origins in the study of free radicals back in the late 1960s, where they were used to help detect and examine free radical activity when using Electron Paramagnetic Resonance (EPR) spectroscopy.
It was discovered that Nitrone or nitroso compounds reacted with target free radicals to form stable and distinguishable free radicals that would have under normal circumstances rapidly deteriorated before they could be identified and studied.
Although there are over 25 spin traps according to NIEHS, (National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences) the most commonly used spin traps for this type of research was alpha-phenyl N-tertiary-butyl nitrone (PBN), and it is this compound that has found its way in to contemporary skin care products.

A free radical is an unstable molecule that loses one of its electrons and therefore becomes unbalanced and highly reactiveA free radical is an unstable molecule that loses one of its electrons and therefore becomes unbalanced and highly reactive

Use as a therapeutic compound

According to Dr Chryl Burgess, editor of the book Cosmetic Dermatology, the protective abilities of spin traps comes from their modulation or regulation of proinflammatory cytokines. (The signalling proteins and glycoproteins that are used extensively in cellular communication)
Spin traps have also been shown to prevent free radical induction in the brains of rats, according to Neuroscience researchers, and numerous studies have also shown that PBN (phenyl butyl nitrone) has anti-inflammatory and age-reducing effects.
Research on Spin traping compounds as useful neuroprotective agents in the treatment of ischemia (restriction in blood supply) and stroke continues. In the pre-treatment of surgery, spin traps can help as tissue healing often involves periods of hypoxia (localised shortage of oxygen) or ischemia as the recovering tissue outgrows the vascular supply.
Free radicals have been implicated in pancreatic cell death and the development of insulin-dependent diabetes, and research has speculated that treatment with spin traps may offer some form of protection against some forms of diabetes.

There have been a number of uses of various types of spin traps over the past 30 years, from formulations to induce hair growth, preventing gastric ulceration, reduction of liver cancer to the use as pharmaceutical agents for the administration to patients suffering from acute central nervous system oxidation. With these types of credentials, spin traps appear to have the ideal properties that formulators of anti-aging skin care desire.

Why are spin traps different that other anti-oxidants?

Researchers studying spin traps discovered that the fundamental mechanism of "spin trap" activity is different from other anti-oxidants.
In most conventional anti-oxidants, the compounds destructively act upon the free radicals by chemically reacting with them to convert the ROS (reactive oxygen species) into water.
It is theorised that in the event of an over abundance of conventional anti-oxidants, they may contribute to hypoxia (lack of oxygen) in deep tissue by indiscriminately converting both normal oxygen and ROS molecules to water.

Conversely, spin traps constructively deal with the ROS in a passive way by intercepting them before any damage is done.
This is perhaps why some researchers have dubbed the spin traps as the "intelligent" anti-oxidant, as they are the only anti-oxidants that differentiate between good oxygen molecules and injurious ones (ROS).
Spin Traps are reported to protect good oxygen, preventing it from going bad by reading the spin of a molecule, and attaching themselves to only the free radicals.

The difference between spin traps and conventional Anti-oxidants: Destroy or selectively captureThe difference between spin traps and conventional Anti-oxidants: Destroy or selectively capture

Spin traps in formulations

Spin traps can compliment other skin anti-aging treatments. It is understood that both topical Vitamin-C and alpha-hydroxy acids, such as glycolic and lactic acid, generate hydroxyl free radicals, and this may potentially limit their effectiveness in professional skin care.
The spin trap PBN has shown to scavenge the free radicals produced by alpha-hydroxy-acids, and the spin trap TEMPO (see list below) trap free radicals produced by Vitamin C.

The application of PBN spin traps in skin care products has largely been pioneered by US Doctor Peter H. Proctor, PhD, who holds patents for the use of them for that specific purpose. Consequently, some companies advertising natural "spin trap" or "spin trap-like" compounds as skin care product ingredients are likely not to be using real spin traps due to patent restrictions. Technically, true spin traps are "nitrone" or a "nitroso" compounds such as PBN or "Phenyl-Butyl-Nitrone".

When looking at formulations that claim to contain spin trap technology, at least one of these nitrone and nitroso spin trap compounds should be present:


N-t-butyl-.alpha.-phenylnitrone (PBN)

2,2,6,6-Tetramethylpiperidine-N-Oxyl (TEMPO)

3,5-dibromo-4-nitrosobenzenesulfonic acid

5,5-dimethyl-1-pyrroline N-oxide


nitrosodisulfonic acid


3,3,5,5-tetramethylpyrroline N-oxide




Spin traps are known to suppresspro-inflammatory conditions, and destroy age-inducing free radicals in skin. They are potent antioxidant superoxide dismutase, consequently with their own skin anti-aging and scar-reducing properties.
When used in skin care formulations they exhibit anti-irritant and anti-microbial properties, and have been shown to be beneficial in treating inflammatory conditions like rosacea and sunburn.
Spin traps have been shown to affect cellular oxidation states and oxidatively sensitive enzyme systems, however it is too early to conclusively prove that they have a markedly superior effect as an anti-aging agent than the anti-oxidants currently in use.

Skin treatment therapists can help clients by prescribing the most effective Cosmeceuticals for the particular condition. Using topical anti-aging products in combination with other procedures, treatments and correct nutrition remains the best approach to treating aging skin.

About the Author

Ralph Hill is the technology writer, illustrator and editor for Virtual Beauty Corporation. He has a background in science, electronics and electro-mechanical devices, but enjoys researching and writing on a myriad of skin care related topics including cosmetic chemistry and anatomy & physiology.



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