Want to make sure you’re using a well-balanced skin-care routine? Incorporate antioxidants. Any dermatologist will drive this point home, as they play a critical role in scavenging free radicals that cause skin damage, and ultimately, signs of aging. These are seven of the most potent and efficacious antioxidants to look for in your skin-care products for a brighter, healthier, more youthful complexion.
Arguably the most popular antioxidant of the bunch (dermatologists praise its skin-brightening power), vitamin C comes in many forms, and therefore goes by many names. Ascorbic acid (aka L-ascorbic acid) is the pure form of the vitamin, but it’s very unstable and prone to oxidation—it’s sensitive to heat, light and oxygen, especially in the presence of water. This also means it has a shorter shelf life. To improve its stability, cosmetic chemists developed derivatives of ascorbic acid—ascorbyl palmitate and sodium ascorbyl phosphate are the two most common—and often use them in products instead of ascorbic acid. However, cosmetic formulator Stephen Alain Ko says this requires a modification of the chemical structure of the vitamin to make it more stable, and research proving this modified version is more effective is scant, if not inconclusive. “That’s why I prefer using vitamin C in its pure ascorbic acid form, despite its stability issues,” he notes.
Vitamin C helps protect skin from free-radical damage, including that from UV exposure, environmental pollutants, smoke, alcohol, etc. “It’s backed by a large sum of research that shows it can improve sallowness and dark spots to brighten the skin, while also stimulating collagen production,” Ko explains, pointing to SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic as one of his favorite products. “These effects help minimize changes in the skin associated with aging, such as fine lines and sun damage.”
Miami dermatologist Dr. Deborah Longwill says this is one of her favorite antioxidants (it’s also known as the longevity molecule, and like vitamin C, can be ingested for a bevy of healthy benefits). “Resveratrol is a naturally occurring antioxidant that is sourced from the skin of grapes and other berries, and it can act as a shield against environmental stressors and protect skin from UV damage. In addition, it has anti-aging properties, reduces redness, evens skin tone, and hydrates the skin! My favorite product that contains resveratrol is Doctor’s Daughter Extremolyte Stem Cell Serum.”
Also known as vitamin B3 (you’ll often see it listed as such on skin-care products), niacinamide is like a multivitamin for our skin: From brightening dullness and reducing redness to blurring large pores and fine lines, it not only refines skin’s appearance, but also works at a cellular level to boost barrier function. “Niacinamide is another powerful antioxidant that improves skin complexion and texture,” says Dr. Longwill. “It is one of the secrets to glowing skin because it has amazing brightening benefits, it reduces acne and it prevents signs of aging.”
Also referred to as coenzyme Q10, coQ10 is a cellular antioxidant that occurs naturally in our bodies to help neutralize free radicals and create collagen and elastin in our skin. “CoQ10 is a powerful antioxidant that helps repair aging and negative environmental effects on our skin,” says Delray Beach, FL, dermatologist Dr. Janet Allenby. “Oxidants are like the ‘Pacman,’ in that they chew up our good cells. We capture the oxidants with antioxidants as the name describes, so they are part of our bodies’ military force in reducing skin aging and environmental stresses.”
“Green tea polyphenols are my absolute favorite antioxidant,” says New York dermatologist Jody Levine, MD. “They stop oxidation damage at various points in the oxidation pathway and counter free radicals, helping to reduce or eliminate the damage they cause. This makes green tea the most potent amongst the antioxidants. At Plastic Surgery & Dermatology of NYC, we include green tea in most of our products, as we feel an antioxidant is essential to one’s skin-care routine. Green tea gives a tan tint to a product, which may explain why they are not seen in beauty stores, as white products have traditionally been seen as more elegant. However, it’s important to note that the tan hue does not cause a change in the skin tone and is certainly worth the benefit of the polyphenols.”
Many people may not realize that retinol is also an antioxidant. “Retinol is another antioxidant that is on the top of my list,” says Dr. Longwill. “A derivative of vitamin A, it increases cellular turnover, helps clear acne, improves skin texture, reduces signs of aging, and helps reverse the effects of sun damage.”
Beloved by skin-care pros for its ability to accelerate the skin’s healing process, vitamin E is found in just about every moisturizer, cream and lotion formulated to treat dry skin. It’s also been proven in studies to help stabilize other antioxidants and improve their effectiveness, so you’ll often find it paired with vitamin C or resveratrol in skin-care products.