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

BY Dermstore Editors · June 5, 2018

Girl holding an orange 2

If there is a magic potion that can delay skin aging and protect it from further damage, would you take it? For years, health and skin care companies have been searching for the “fountain of youth” and it looks like we have come close to a solution, all thanks to antioxidants.

According to board-certified dermatologist Rhonda Klein of Connecticut Dermatology Group, “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.”

Free Radicals and Antioxidants

Free radicals play a dual role in our body that can be both beneficial and harmful. Our body purposely creates free radicals to neutralize viruses and bacteria. However, too much of it affects the DNA, lipids and proteins that can trigger diseases. These free radicals are unstable, highly reactive molecules that have one or more unpaired electrons. To gain stability, they attack stable molecules, triggering a chain reaction that damages healthy cells. 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.

Environmental factors like radiation from the sun, pollution, radiation, cigarette smoke and other toxic chemicals are also known to trigger the formation of free radicals. 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.

The 5 Main Benefits of Antioxidants for Your Skin

  1. Antioxidants help correct signs of age.

Oxidative stress breaks down collagen, hinders skin’s natural repair process and triggers inflammation—and you see these 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.

  1. Antioxidants help prevent sunburn.

“By definition, all antioxidants have anti-inflammatory properties,” explains board-certified dermatologist Ashley Magovern, 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.”

  1. Antioxidants help skin repair itself.

Inflamed skin impedes the skin’s rejuvenation 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.

  1. 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 pigmentations. Some antioxidants (again, like vitamin C) also work as a tyrosinase (an enzyme that stimulates melanin production) inhibitor.

  1. Antioxidants may help prevent skin cancer.

Some antioxidants, such as vitamins A, C and E, have anti-carcinogenic properties and may help prevent skin cancer.

The Best Antioxidants for Your Skin

Antioxidants aren’t all cast in the same mold. While they’re all designed to protect the cells from UV light, pollution and other environmental elements that produce damaging free radicals, some are found to be more potent than others. Here are just some of the most popular antioxidants found in your skin care products:


A favorite among dermatologists, vitamin C is one of the most studied antioxidants available on the market. Other than being a free radical scavenger, vitamin C has other skin benefits, like boosting collagen production and fading dark spots. But beware, vitamin C is inherently unstable and can lose its potency when exposed to light or air. “It’s probably best to store it in a cool, dark drawer or cabinet,” advises Dr. Magovern. “Tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate, or THD, is a form of vitamin C that is inherently more stable, and it’s lipid soluble, which means that it can better penetrate into the deeper levels of the skin to stimulate collagen production. Some prefer this formulation, which tends to be a bit velvety and creamy rather than serum-like.” Other forms of vitamin C include L-ascorbic and ester-C.

Find it in: Obagi Professional-C Serum 20%


If there’s one anti-aging 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 ingredient is particularly effective due to its small molecular structure, giving it the ability to penetrate deep enough into the skin that it can effectively stimulate collagen production and accelerate cell renewal and repair, smoothing fine lines and wrinkles and improving skin tone in the process. Whether it’s the over-the-counter or prescription-strength kind (tretinoin), retinol is a powerful antioxidant for fighting environmental aggressors that cause premature skin aging.

Find it iniS Clinical Pro-Heal Serum Advance Plus


Vitamin E is an important vitamin required for the proper function of many organs in the body, including the skin. Aside from being a powerful antioxidant, vitamin E is widely recognized for its ability to accelerate the skin’s healing process. No wonder it is often found in moisturizers, creams and lotions formulated to treat dry skin as well as products designed to reduce stretch marks.

Find it in: SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic


A chemical compound found mostly in the skins of fruits like grapes and berries, peanuts, tea and red wine, resveratrol serves as the plant’s defensive armor. It’s an antimicrobial substance produced by plants to protect themselves from air pollution, infection, intense UV radiation and extreme climate changes. Some studies also vouch for its cancer-fighting abilities. As for how this antioxidant does this may have something to do with the way it boosts the activity of mitochondria, the cells’ powerhouses, promoting longer cell life in the body.

Find it in: SkinCeuticals Resveratrol B E


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 coenzymeQ10 or coQ10 in your body, those late nights didn’t take a toll on your skin—back then that is. But as we age, the presence of coenzymeQ10, 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 keep your skin cells healthy. This nutrient is easily absorbed by the skin and helps stimulate collagen production, which helps improve elasticity and texture.

Find it in: Eminence Organics Eight Greens Youth Serum


A well-functioning epidermis is essential to protect us from free radicals. The more our epidermal lipid barrier is stabilized, the more it can fully absorb the vitamins and nutrients from our skin care products and achieve optimal results. However, as we age, our skin’s ability to heal and retain moisture weakens, leaving us prone to wrinkles, fine lines, hyperpigmentation and dullness.

“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.

Water-soluble and suitable for all skin types, this vitamin is often used to treat skin conditions like rosacea and acne and is not known to cause any adverse reactions. It can even be combined with your favorite skin care products and ingredients, like vitamins A and C, retinol and hydroxy acids to boost their performance.

Find it in: Paula’s Choice Resist 10% Niacinamide Booster


Great news: That one glass of wine at happy hour and your secret stash of chocolate can help save your skin, all thanks to polyphenol. This plant-based vitamin, which can be found in vegetables, green tea, fruits and chocolates, contains chemopreventive properties that “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 polyphenol help improve our skin’s natural defense against oxidative stress, prevent skin aging and may inhibit skin cancer.

Find it in: Dermalogica MultiVitamin Power Firm


Dermatologists continue to see the importance of including botanicals in skin care. Studies show that flavonoids, an antioxidant found in green and black teas, have the potential to treat rosacea, reduce inflammation and oxidative stress. “Flavonoids absorb UV light and modulate signaling pathways that influence cellular function to prevent photoaging and damage,” explains Dr. Klein. These nutrients also help reduce collagen degradation, delay skin aging and inhibit skin cancer.

Find it in: Eminence Organics Firm Skin Acai Moisturizer


Glutathione is a powerful antioxidant that aids in cell repair and protection of vital organs like liver, kidney, brain and the skin. One of its wide-known side effects is its antimelanogenic property that causes skin whitening. This “mother of all antioxidants” helps detoxify the skin and reduces the appearance of wrinkles, giving you smoother, more supple skin. Research also shows that when taken orally, glutathione can help combat liver disease.

Find it in: PCA Skin C-Quench Antioxidant Serum


Dermstore Editors

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