A guide to antioxidants in skincare

Updated: May 7, 2020

Antioxidants are one of the most discussed and researched elements of the skincare industry. They are everywhere, found naturally in fruit and vegetables, eggs, legumes and nuts. They are used as food additives to prevent food deterioration, and also in industrial manufacturing – preventing rubber and plastic erosion. All kinds of antioxidants are found in various forms of skincare; added to the face creams, serums, cleansers and face masks we use. Discover all there is to know about antioxidants in skincare in this article and the best ones to source, based upon your skin concern.

bops head sunglasses gif

via giphy

What do antioxidant’s do for the skin?

Antioxidant’s main role is to limit free radical production in the skin. The oxygen in the body splits into single atoms with unpaired electrons, however these electrons like to pair up so the atoms tend to scavenge the body to seek out other electrons to pair up with. This action causes oxidative stress and damage to the cells, proteins, lipids and DNA in the skin.

free radicals diagram

via rejuvent

Sun exposure, pollution, radiation, alcohol, bad diet, some medications, too much exercise, smoking and toxic chemicals all trigger the formation of free radicals.

This oxidative stress causes collagen break down which leads to premature ageing, uneven skin tone and texture and poor skin health overall. It also triggers melanin production, causing the development of hyperpigmentation and uneven skin tone.

Antioxidants cleverly stunt the skin’s inflammatory response to sun exposure and other environmental and lifestyle factors, resulting in less erythema and sensitivity, collagen breakdown and pigmentation. This allows the skin to function more normally, allowing a stronger repair system.

morgan freeman clapping gif

via giphy

Who are antioxidants beneficial for?

The answer is, everyone. In the same way that sunblock protects the skin, antioxidants work in the same way but at a deeper, cellular level.

Those that a specifically concerned with brightening their skin or improving the appearance of hyperpigmentation will benefit greatly from an antioxidant in there skincare routine.

Ageing skin types and those taking preventative measures to reduce early signs of fine lines and general ageing, should also be using antioxidant-based skincare.

What types of antioxidants should I be on the lookout for?

There are many kinds of antioxidants used in skincare, so here is a list of the most studied and effective ingredients.

Vitamin C

Also known as: Ascorbate, Ascorbate de Calcium, Ascorbate de Sodium, Ascorbic Acid, Ascorbic acid, Ascorbyl Palmitate, Calcium Ascorbate, Cevitamic Acid, Iso-Ascorbic Acid, L-Ascorbic Acid, Magnesium Ascorbate, Palmitate d’Ascorbyl

Vitamin C is one of the most studied skincare ingredients to date and is renowned as a pigment inhibitor. It’s sourced from fruit and vegetables, particularly in oranges. Those with a vitamin C deficiency tend to suffer with skin fragility, scurvy and poor wound healing, proof of the significant role vitamin C plays in the human body and skincare.

It not only offers nutritional support to the epidermis and stimulates collagen synthesis, but also brightens skin tone and hyperpigmentation.

There is a lot of debate about the stability of Vitamin C in skincare because when it’s oxidised (which can happen quite easily) and turns brown, it can cause more damage to the skin than good. Understand more about prolonging the life of your vitamin C skincare product here.

Great for: Brightening skin tone and improving hyperpigmentation

Why not try? Obagi Professional–C Serum 10%

Obagi Professional C Serum 10%

via obagi


Also known as: 3,5,4′ TriHydroxy-Transstibene, (E)- 5-(4-hydroxystyryl)benzene-1,3-diol, 3,4′,5-stilbenetriol, 3,5,4′ -trihydroxystilbene, 3,4′,5-trihydroxystilbene, 3,5,4′-trihydroxy-trans-stilbene, Cis-Resveratrol, Extrait de Vin, Extrait de Vin Rouge, Kojo-Kon, Phytoalexin, Phytoalexine, Phytoestrogen, Phyto-œstrogène, Pilule de Vin, Protykin, Red Wine Extract, Resvératrol, Resveratrols, Resvératrols, RSV, RSVL, Stilbene Phytoalexin, Trans-Resveratrol, Trans-Resvératrol, Wine Extract, Wine Pill.

This antioxidant is sourced from nuts, cocoa and berry fruits and in particular, red grapes and wine. Resveratrol is a polyphenol – a protective antibiotic produced in plants that are under stress. Many claim that resveratrol is the ‘super’ and one of the most potent antioxidant.

One 2005 study carried out by the National Institute of Health found that when resveratrol was applied to animals, it protected them from UV exposures. Another trial, published in the American Journal of Clinical Dermatology found it also improved cases of acne.

Great for: All skin types, especially ageing

Why not try? Skinceuticals Resveratrol B E

Skinceuticals Reservatrol B E

via Skinceuticals

Vitamin E

Also known as: Tocotrienol and Tocopherol

Used in dermatology for the last 50 years, Vitamin E is another effective antioxidant. There are 8 chemical forms in which this oil-soluble vitamin occurs and has a variety of benefits for the skin.

Vitamin E is cellular restorative, a skin healer, strengthens and moisturises the skin’s barrier. It is a soothing and anti-inflammatory ingredient making it a perfect choice for sensitive skin types. The only skin type this ingredient is not good for, is excessively oily and acne-based conditions.

Several studies have also highlighted the powerful effect Vitamin E has on treating cases of dermatitis, psoriasis, cutaneous ulcers and melasma.

Great for: Dry, dehydrated and mature skin types and extreme dry skin conditions such as eczema

Why not try? The Body Shop Vitamin E Aqua boost essence lotion

The Body Shop Vitamin E aqua boost essence lotion

via The Body Shop


Also known as: 3-Dehydroretinol, 3-Déhydrorétinol, Acétate de Rétinol, Antixerophthalmic Vitamin, Axerophtholum, Dehydroretinol, Déhydrorétinol, Fat-Soluble Vitamin, Oleovitamin A, Palmitate de Rétinol, Retinoids, Rétinoïdes, Retinol Acetate, Retinol Palmitate, Retinyl Acetate, Rétinyl Acétate, Retinyl Palmitate, Rétinyl Palmitate, Vitamin AAcetate, Vitamin A Palmitate, Vitamin A1, Vitamin A2, Vitamina A, Vitamine A, Vitamine A1, Vitamine A2, Vitamine Liposoluble, Vitaminum A

Retinol is a strong skin exfoliant because it dramatically increases the cellular turnover in the skin. When applied, it converts to retinoic acid and used in skincare mostly to improve photo ageing and to firm and plump the skin.

However retinol is notoriously known for causing irritation so it is important to slowly introduce this product into your skincare routine else peeling, irritation and strong sensitivity can occur. For the first week you are using it, use once, then twice on the second week and then slowly build up to daily us if your skin can tolerate it.

Numerous studies have highlighted the efficiency of using retinol on an ageing skin, scarring and hyperpigmentation.

Great for: Photo damage, mature skin types, scarring

Why not try? Skinceuticals 0.3 retinol

skinceuticals 0.3 retinol

via Skinceuticals

Green tea

Also known as: Benifuuki, Camellia sinensis, Camellia thea, Camellia theifera, Constituant Polyphénolique de Thé Vert, CPTV, EGCG, Epigallo Catechin Gallate, Épigallo-Catéchine Gallate, Epigallocatechin Gallate, Extrait de Camellia Sinensis, Extrait de Thé, Extrait de Thé Vert, Extrait de Thea Sinensis, Green Sencha Tea, Green Tea Extract, Green Tea Polyphenolic Fraction, GTP, GTPF, Japanese Sencha Green Tea, Japanese Tea, Kunecatechins, Poly E, Polyphenon E, PTV, Té Verde, Tea, Tea Extract, Tea Green, Thé, Thé de Camillia, Thé Japonais, Thé Vert, Thé Vert de Yame, Thé Vert Sensha, Thea bohea, Thea sinensis, Thea viridis, Yame Green Tea, Yabukita, Yame Tea

Similar to vitamin E, this antioxidant is the ultimate skin soother and effectively decreases inflammation in the skin, and suitable to use on the most sensitive of skins. It is a well-researched botanical ingredient and has been used medicinally in Asia for over 4000 years. It not only works against fighting free radicals but has also been proven to help kill off the P bacterium in the skin.

A large study amongst others, shows that green tea can help build resistance towards UV exposure, ageing, erythema and even cancer.

Great for: Sensitive skins, rosacea and acne

Why not try? Face the Theory BHA Exfoliating serum

Face the Theory BHA Exfoliating serum

via Face the Theory

When is the best time to use an antioxidant?

An antioxidant should be worn in the morning and applied after cleansing, prior to serums, moisturiser and SPF.

Often antioxidant formulations (if made correctly) should be extremely lightweight and sink into the skin quite quickly.

sunrise girl free image

via pxhere

Is there any risk involved with antioxidants in skincare?

There isn’t necessarily risk involved with using a topical antioxidant except from what I have previously mentioned, however there are some concerns to the stability and therefore effectiveness of the product. Antioxidants are a challenge to formulate into skincare, and a variety of factors depend on the efficiency of the product:


The product needs to have a high enough anti-oxidative capability and certain storage rules must be followed to maintain the shelf life of the product – in most cases this time period is rather short.


The concentration of the product must be high enough to actually be able to affect the skin in any way.


This is a common problem for most skincare products, can the product absorb into the skin effectively enough to be able to take any effect at all?

meryl streep pursed lips gif

via giphy

Antioxidants unique ability to reduce free radical damage in the skin make them a must-have in everyone’s skincare routine. With regular use, an antioxidant-based product can limit sun and environmental damage, improve cases of rosacea, hyperpigmentation and acne and prevent premature ageing. It is best applied in the morning and acts as the perfect partner to your sunscreen. There are too many vitamin E and C, retinoids and botanical products on the market today to even count, and so it’s important to remember that not every formulation is a stable and effective one. Do your research before purchasing, check out if the product has any clinical research behind it and consider the 5-star recommendations in this post.

Do you know if you’re SPF is even working for you? Find out here about why you must always have a broad-spectrum, physical sunblock in your routine.

#skincareingredients #antioxidantsinskincare #VitaminC #antioxidants #freeradicals #GreenTeaExtract

5 views0 comments