Skin Care Blogs

Antioxidants in Skin Care: How Do They Work and Which Ones Are the Best?

You might be aware that antioxidants are in some of your favorite skin care products, but maybe not what they actually are or how they work. Well, it’s worth getting familiar with this all-star class of ingredients because antioxidants can do a world of good for your skin.

According to Dr. Rhonda Klein, a board-certified dermatologist in Connecticut, “Antioxidants protect the skin by limiting free radical production, which can damage the skin. With daily use, they can reduce lentigines (sun spots), help combat visible signs of aging and calm skin inflammations. Several antioxidants provide the skin with hydration and increase moisture retention to help revitalize dull-looking skin.” In short, antioxidants are damage defenders that help slow skin aging—and they deserve a place in your routine.

Free Radicals and Antioxidants

If you’ve ever seen a sliced apple turn brown, you’ve witnessed the process of oxidation, which is caused by free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that have one or more unpaired electrons. To gain stability, they react with other molecules, triggering a chain reaction that damages healthy cells.

Our bodies naturally produce free radicals, but they can also come from exposure to environmental factors like UV rays, pollution, cigarette smoke and other chemicals.

Once an overload of free radicals is present in our system, it causes oxidative stress, or an imbalance between the production of free radicals and the ability of the body to counteract or detoxify their harmful effects.

Fortunately, studies have shown that the inclusion of antioxidants in your skin care regimen can help your skin fight free radical damage and recover from oxidative stress.

What Antioxidants Can Do for Your Skin

Antioxidants help correct signs of age.

Oxidative stress breaks down collagen, hinders skin’s natural repair process and triggers inflammation—and you see these effects as fine lines, wrinkles, loose skin, acne breakouts and a blotchy skin tone. By scavenging free radicals, antioxidants can help prevent and correct these visible signs and give skin a more youthful glow.

Antioxidants help prevent sun damage.

“By definition, all antioxidants have anti-inflammatory properties,” explains Dr. Ashley Magovern, a board-certified dermatologist in Manhattan Beach, Calif. and medical director at Dermstore. “They blunt your skin’s inflammatory response to the sun’s harmful rays, preventing sunburn and providing enhanced protection against sun damage and photoaging.”

Antioxidants help skin repair itself.

Inflammation impedes the skin’s renewal process. By reducing inflammation, antioxidants allow skin to repair itself and correct visible damage. “Some antioxidants, like vitamin C, can also stimulate collagen production, which is vital for youthful skin,” adds Dr. Magovern.

Antioxidants help brighten skin tone.

Free radicals and frequent sun exposure can also trigger changes in our skin’s melanin production, causing dark spots and uneven skin tone. By reducing photodamage, antioxidants can help prevent abnormal skin pigmentation. Some antioxidants (again, like vitamin C) also work to inhibit tyrosinase, an enzyme that stimulates melanin production.

The Best Antioxidants for Your Skin

There are many different types of antioxidants, some more potent than others. The ones used in topical skin care products can protect cells from UV light, pollution and other environmental factors that produce damaging free radicals. Here are the most popular antioxidants found in your skin care products:

  1. 1. Vitamin C
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    1. Vitamin C

    A favorite among dermatologists, vitamin C is one of the most studied antioxidants out there. As a free radical scavenger, vitamin C has many skin benefits, like boosting collagen production (which leaves skin firmer) and fading dark spots. Use it in the morning to make the most of its ability to prevent sun damage and inhibit hyperpigmentation—and always follow it with sunscreen.

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  2. 2. Niacinamide
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    2. Niacinamide

    “Niacinamide, also known as vitamin B3, is a powerful antioxidant that improves the skin’s texture and tone. It reduces fine lines, wrinkles and hyperpigmentation and exhibits anti-inflammatory properties,” explains Dr. Klein. Thanks to its ability to calm inflammation, niacinamide can also soothe breakouts, improve skin’s barrier function and help fight redness.

    This vitamin is often used to treat skin conditions like rosacea and acne and is not known to cause any adverse reactions, making it ideal for sensitive types.

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  3. 3. Resveratrol
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    3. Resveratrol

    Resveratrol is known as the “longevity molecule” thanks to its impressive anti-aging abilities. An antioxidant found mostly in the skins of fruits like grapes and berries, resveratrol serves as the plants’ defensive armor—and has a similarly reparative effect when used in skin care products. “Resveratrol has anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antifungal properties, which calm down the skin, reduce skin aging and may keep [the skin] free of infections,” says Dr. Viseslav Tonkovic-Capin, a board-certified dermatologist in Missouri. It’s best used in the evening, since UV exposure can hamper its effectiveness.

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  4. 4. Vitamin E
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    4. Vitamin E

    Vitamin E is an important antioxidant required for the proper function of many organs in the body, including the skin. It’s widely recognized for its ability to accelerate the skin’s healing process. No wonder vitamin E is often found in moisturizers, creams and lotions formulated to treat dry skin, as well as products designed to reduce stretch marks. Vitamin E also helps to stabilize other antioxidants and improve their effectiveness, so you’ll often find it paired with vitamin C or resveratrol.

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  5. 5. Retinol (Vitamin A)
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    5. Retinol (Vitamin A)

    If there’s one ingredient that’s been proven time and time again to help turn back the clock on aging skin, it’s retinol. A derivative of vitamin A, this antioxidant is particularly effective due to its small molecular structure, which allows it to penetrate deep enough into the skin that it can effectively stimulate collagen production and accelerate cell renewal and repair. Both over-the-counter retinol and prescription forms of vitamin A (retinoids like tretinoin) are adept at smoothing fine lines and wrinkles and improving skin tone and discoloration.

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  6. 6. Coenzyme Q10
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    6. Coenzyme Q10

    Ever wondered how you used to pull an all-nighter with no hint of fatigue on your skin the next day? Well, thanks to the abundant supply of coenzyme Q10 or coQ10 in your body, those late nights didn’t take a toll on your skin—back then. But as we age, the presence of coenzyme Q10, also known as ubiquinone, in our body slowly diminishes, making us more susceptible to wrinkles and photo-aging. Research shows that an increased topical application of this antioxidant helps fight off free radical damage and keeps your skin cells healthy. This nutrient is easily absorbed by the skin and helps stimulate collagen production, which helps improve elasticity and texture.

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  7. 7. Polyphenols
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    7. Polyphenols

    There are thousands of types of polyphenols (resveratrol is one) which are found in fruits, vegetables, green or black tea (also called flavonoids) and other botanicals. These compounds “possess anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory and antioxidant properties to prevent UV-induced skin photodamage,” Dr. Klein explains. Studies show that consumption and topical use of ingredients rich in polyphenols help improve our skin’s natural defense against oxidative stress, prevent signs of aging and repair DNA damage.

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