Unless you’re a trained skin-care professional, all of the umbrella terms for complexion-saving ingredients can be hard to understand. Even some of the most popular terms can still be both a beloved category in skin care and a confusing one. For example, antioxidants—a category that includes powerhouse ingredients like vitamin C—still have an air of mystery around them, even though they’re as buzzy as ever.
Chances are, you already know antioxidants are important for boosting the appearance and health of your skin, but you’re also likely not so sure where to start when it comes to finding one that’s right for you. Luckily, there’s a simple solution: Vitamin C, arguably the most well-known ingredient on the market, is the antioxidant that everyone should be using.
“Vitamin C is for everyone!” Birmingham, AL dermatologist Dr. Sarah Sawyer confirms. So, how exactly should you be using this ingredient (and other antioxidants)? We asked Dr. Sawyer to break down how to incorporate antioxidants into your routine and the kind of results you can expect. Plus, she reveals the best vitamin C serum for every skin type.
How do antioxidants work?
To put it simply, antioxidants are the skin-care superheroes that protect your dermis against external attackers. These enemy assailants come in the form of sun exposure, pollution, and other environmental aggressors that promote free radical damage, which leads to the degradation of collagen and elastin, and ultimately worsen signs of aging. Antioxidants like vitamin C can help fight these skin-damaging free radicals and even reverse pre-existing damage.
“[Antioxidants] help prevent damage before it even starts,” says Dr. Sawyer. “The earlier we can start patients on [antioxidants], the better their skin will be, and they will have less sun damage accumulate over their lifetime.”
How should you select an antioxidant for your skin?
According to Dr. Sawyer, people should be selecting their ideal antioxidant depending on their skin type, their skin concerns, and their skin goals. That said, vitamin C is the universal go-to.
Dr. Sawyer’s recommended brand, SkinCeuticals, has three main unique formulas of vitamin C. “Often, I pick SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic for people who have normal-to-dry aging skin who don’t have any active acne or issues with any breakouts,” she explains. This product features 15% pure vitamin C paired with 1% vitamin E and 0.5% ferulic acid (all of which are powerful antioxidants!) to address signs of aging like wrinkles and loss of firmness, while also brightening the skin.
Those who want to improve skin discoloration and evenness of skin tone should try another option called the SkinCeuticals Phloretin CF, which uses a combination of 10% vitamin C, 2% phloretin, and 0.5% ferulic acid. “It has shown to be effective against stressors in the environment and help with that UV-induced pigmentation,” Dr. Sawyer confirms.
Finally, the newest vitamin C in SkinCeuticals’ repertoire is Silymarin CF, which incorporates 15% vitamin C, 0.5% silymarin, and 0.5% ferulic acid. This pick plays a key role in reducing excess sebum and lipid peroxidation in the skin, making it perfect for blemish-prone complexions. “Before this one came out, acne-prone patients really had to minimize their use of vitamin C,” says Dr. Sawyer. “Silymarin CF is better tolerated, and there’s just enough salicylic acid—a very popular acne ingredient—to help pores stay clean and help keep acne under control.”
How should you use these antioxidant serums?
To use, first cleanse the skin thoroughly in the morning before applying the antioxidant serum. Then, layer on any other products, like a moisturizer, that you typically like to use in your routine. Of course, you should always finish it off with a layer of sunscreen to ensure the utmost protection against environmental aggressors.
One thing to note: Don’t apply these serums at the same time as chemical exfoliators like retinol or other skin-care acids, as this may cause irritation.
The bottom line
It’s no secret that antioxidants are essential in a good skin-care routine—no matter what your skin concerns are. In fact, after sunscreen, Dr. Sawyer confirms that everyone’s favorite antioxidant—vitamin C—is the number-two priority for her and her patients, especially when it comes to pigmentation and wrinkles. “Vitamin C not only protects your skin, but it helps to rehabilitate your skin,” she says. That said, the benefits of topical vitamin C often depend on the quality and components of the product applied, and SkinCeuticals’ three antioxidant-based serums all have the optimal synergistic blend to deliver real results. So, whether you’re concerned about aging, blemishes, or discoloration, give one of these expert-loved serums a try.