Oxidative stress is often defined as an imbalance of pro-oxidants and antioxidants, which can be quantified in humans as the redox state of plasma GSH/GSSG. Plasma GSH redox in humans becomes oxidized with age, in response to oxidative stress (chemotherapy, smoking), and in common diseases (type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease). However, data also show that redox of plasma GSH/GSSG is not equilibrated with the larger plasma cysteine/cystine (Cys/CySS) pool, indicating that the "balance" of pro-oxidants and antioxidants cannot be defined by a single entity. The major cellular thiol/disulfide systems, including GSH/GSSG, thioredoxin- 1 (-SH(2)/-SS-), and Cys/CySS, are not in redox equilibrium and respond differently to chemical toxicants and physiologic stimuli. Individual signaling and control events occur through discrete redox pathways rather than through mechanisms that are directly responsive to a global thiol/disulfide balance such as that conceptualized in the common definition of oxidative stress. Thus, from a mechanistic standpoint, oxidative stress may be better defined as a disruption of redox signaling and control. Adoption of such a definition could redirect research to identify key perturbations of redox signaling and control and lead to new treatments for oxidative stress-related disease processes.