Free radicals and other reactive species (RS) are thought to play an important role in many human diseases. Establishing their precise role requires the ability to measure them and the oxidative damage that they cause. This article first reviews what is meant by the terms free radical, RS, antioxidant, oxidative damage and oxidative stress. It then critically examines methods used to trap RS, including spin trapping and aromatic hydroxylation, with a particular emphasis on those methods applicable to human studies. Methods used to measure oxidative damage to DNA, lipids and proteins and methods used to detect RS in cell culture, especially the various fluorescent "probes" of RS, are also critically reviewed. The emphasis throughout is on the caution that is needed in applying these methods in view of possible errors and artifacts in interpreting the results.