What Is Oxidative Stress?

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You’ve probably seen the term “oxidative stress” in the description on dozens of skin-care products, but do you know what it means? Here, top dermatologists shed light on what we should know and the products they recommend to keep our skin protected, healthy and aging gracefully.

What Is Oxidative Stress?

“Oxidative stress comes from free-radical damage to the body,” says New York dermatologist Jody Levine, MD, explaining that free radicals are highly reactive molecules that can damage skin cells, leading to signs of aging. “Antioxidants counter free radicals to protect the body from this damage. When a skin-care product contains antioxidants, they work to help neutralize free radicals and protect the skin from their damaging effects. However, not all antioxidants are equal. I recommend consulting with a board-certified dermatologist to find the right products for your skin.”

Some factors that can contribute to free radicals include environmental stressors such as UV radiation (sun damage, etc.) and pollution, adds New York dermatologist Marisa Garshick, MD.

Signs That Your Skin Is Experiencing Oxidative Stress:

“Wrinkles, thinning, lax skin, lack of luster, and discoloration like brown spots can all be signs of oxidative stress on skin,” Dr. Levine explains. Dr. Garshick says it can also contribute to inflammation, leading to worsening acne and rosacea. 

Skin-Care Ingredients That Can Help Fight Oxidative Stress:

Vitamin C, niacinamide, resveratrol, coenzyme Q10 (COQ10), astaxanthin, vitamin E, and vitamin A (retinol). “Vitamin C is the best-studied of the topical antioxidants, but there are many different antioxidants that can be added to skin-care products,” says Dallas dermatologist Rebecca Marcus, MD. Dr. Levine is also a big fan of green tea polyphenols for protecting the skin and addressing signs of oxidative stress.

8 Products to Try:

1 / 7

Colorescience Sunforgettable Total Protection Face Shield Flex ($49)

“This lightweight broad-spectrum mineral sunscreen uses 12-percent zinc oxide, iron oxide, antioxidants and a patented Enviroscreen technology to protect against UVA/UVB, blue light, pollution and infrared radiation,” says Dr. Garshick.

“It is available in four different shades, making it easy to blend with your skin for natural coverage. It also uses iron oxide pigments to adapt to your specific tone without leaving the skin feeling greasy, making it good for all skin types. It is hydrating too, and contains niacinamide to help soothe the skin and aid the skin barrier.”

2 / 7

Andalou Naturals Turmeric + Vitamin C Enlighten Serum ($29)

“This serum contains vitamin C and turmeric, which provides antioxidant protection while also helping to address uneven skin tone and dark spots,” says Dr. Garshick. “It uses magnesium ascorbyl phosphate to minimize irritation on the skin, making it good for all skin types.”

3 / 7

Charlotte Tilbury Charlotte’s Magic Cream ($65) 

“This moisturizer contains antioxidants vitamin C and E, while hyaluronic acid and shea butter hydrate and support skin barrier function,” Dr. Marcus says. “Aloe vera calms the skin as plant-based oils give skin extra glow.”

4 / 7

Vichy Minéral 89 Prebiotic ($35)

“This serum, which can be used once or twice per day, incorporates Vichy volcanic water, vitreoscilla ferment and niacinamide, which together helps to boost repair of the skin barrier repair and soothe the skin, helping to fight the signs of stress on the skin,” Dr. Garshick explains. “When used at night, it has also been shown to reduce irritation associated with retinoid use.”  

5 / 7

PSD Fortified Green Tea Serum ($98.50) and PSD Anti-Oxidant Moisturizer & Sunscreen SPF 50+ ($54)

“Skin-care products with sun protection and antioxidants are needed to reduce oxidative stress on the skin,” says Dr. Levine. “I recommend our PSD Fortified Green Tea Serum with resveratrol, as well as our Anti-Oxidant Moisturizer & Sunscreen SPF 50+.”

6 / 7

ACURE Brightening Vitamin C & Ferulic Acid Serum ($22)

“This vitamin C and ferulic acid serum also contains pineapple and matcha tea to improve dullness and discoloration,” says Dr. Garshick. “These antioxidants provide protection against free-radical tissue damage.”

7 / 7

Maei MD Serum 6 ($140)

“This is a multifunctional serum that features a potent antioxidant cocktail combining vitamin C with an antioxidant derived from the French maritime pine tree, which is actually capable of recycling oxidized vitamin C,” says Dr. Marcus. “The result is a formula with higher and more sustained antioxidant activity than would be achieved by vitamin C alone. Serum 6 also contains hydrating, multi-molecular weight hyaluronic acid, as well as anti-inflammatory niacinamide and collagen-boosting peptides and plant-based stem cells.  

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