These Are the Best Antioxidants in Skin Care

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It’s hard to believe there was ever a time when antioxidants didn’t “exist” in skin care. Scientists hadn’t yet unlocked their potential, but they were always there, hidden inside plants and fruits, etc. Now, they’re one of the biggest buzzwords and trendiest ingredients in skin care. Here’s how antioxidants work in skin care, which ones are considered the best, and why they continue to receive immeasurable praise from the pros.

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What are antioxidants?

In scientific terms, “antioxidants are molecular compounds that inhibit the oxidation process,” explains Fort Lauderdale, FL dermatologist Dr. Matthew Elias. “Oxidation is a chemical reaction that can produce harsh free radicals, which are compounds in the body that can cause illness and disease if their levels get too high.” Our bodies have their own antioxidant-fighting mechanisms to keep these levels down, but adding antioxidant protection can further boost those mechanisms. In our diet, we can find high levels of antioxidants in foods like spinach, carrots, kale, avocados and many more. And in our beauty regimens, we can use antioxidants to protect and rejuvenate our skin.

“Antioxidants protect the skin by neutralizing free-radical damage and oxidative stress caused by sunlight, pollution, infrared light, and more,” says Dr. Elias. “These stressors lead to aging effects like wrinkles, fine lines, dark spots, growths, and even skin cancers. Antioxidants can help protect from that damage.” It’s for this reason, Miami dermatologist Dr. Deborah Longwill adds, that antioxidants play a big role in skin-care products. “They can also help to reduce inflammation, allow the skin to repair itself, and help brighten skin tone.”

What are the best antioxidants in skin-care products?

There are many, but Fresno, CA dermatologist Kathleen Behr, MD has a short list. “The best antioxidants in skin-care products are vitamin C, vitamin E, ferulic acid, resveratrol, phloretin and silymarin,” she says. “These antioxidants are chosen for their ability to neutralize free radicals, protect against environmental damage and promote collagen production. This helps promote brighter, more youthful-looking skin.”

Vitamin C:

“It’s known for its potent ability to brighten skin tone and reduce fine lines and wrinkles,” says Dr. Behr. Smoother, younger-looking skin is the benefit of the ingredient’s ability to boost collagen production in the skin. “Vitamin C protects against UV damage, too,” adds Dr. Elias. “It’s backed by more research than all of the other antioxidants, in terms of its role in skin care.”

Ferulic Acid:

“This is a potent antioxidant that is naturally found in numerous plants, including grains, fruits and vegetables,” says Dr. Behr. “Research has shown this ingredient’s powerful antioxidant capabilities that help neutralize the damaging effects of free radicals in the upper layers of skin. This is why an antioxidant serum with ferulic acid can provide significant anti-aging benefits. This antioxidant also enhances the action of vitamins C and E, like in the SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic ($182) serum.”

c e ferulic



Vitamin E:

“In addition to its ability to fight free radicals, it acts as a potent moisturizer for the skin,” says Dr. Longwill.


This is a polyphenol compound found in certain plants and fruits, including grapes. This ingredient is the foundation for Caudalie’s skin-care line and its best-selling Resveratrol-Lift Serum ($84). According to the brand, founder Mathilde Thomas met professor Joseph Vercauteren in 1993. He was the laboratory director of the Pharmacy University of Bordeaux, and he told Thomas that grape seeds contain the most powerful antioxidants in the world. “Grape vines can live for 100 years, thanks to the naturally produced resveratrol that helps the vine’s natural defenses and ability to regenerate,” says Thomas. “We were the first to patent this natural active ingredient with firming and anti-aging properties.” Dr. Longwill adds that resveratrol is known for its high antioxidant activity and also helps protect skin from UV damage.




This ingredient belongs to the polyphenol group of antioxidants. “It demonstrates a remarkable ability to neutralize harmful free radicals and enhance the complexion by reducing the appearance of discoloration,” says Dr. Behr. “I would recommend SkinCeuticals Phloretin CF ($182).”




“This antioxidant is gentle and reduces inflammation in the skin,” says Jennifer Breslin, a medical aesthetician at SkinSpirit. Many skin-care experts call niacinamide the ultimate multitasker because it does so many things. Two of its most beloved attributes include reducing the appearance of pores and boosting skin barrier function. We love Sunday Riley’s B3 Nice 10% Niacinamide Serum ($65).”




“This antioxidant is extracted from the milk thistle plant,” Dr. Behr explains. “It boasts a long history of therapeutic use in traditional medicine, attributed to its detoxifying and purifying properties. This flowering herb, belonging to the same family as ragweed and daisy, is abundant in flavonoid antioxidants. These antioxidants play a crucial role in neutralizing free radicals and reducing the oxidation of oils, potentially diminishing the occurrence of blemishes. For acne-prone or affected skin, I would recommend SkinCeuticals Silymarin CF ($182).”



Are antioxidants more effective when they are combined in skincare products?

“Yes,” says Dr. Elias. “Interestingly, studies show that by combining vitamin C and vitamin E together and stabilizing them in ferulic acid, they are more stable and more effective at preventing premature skin aging.” I remember the first time I tried SkinCeuticals’ famous C E Ferulic serum and learned about Dr. Pinnell’s breakthrough antioxidant discoveries. Dr. Pinnell was the brand’s founding scientist and a dermatologist. As the first product to combine vitamin C, vitamin E and ferulic acid in a single, stable formula, C E Ferulic forever changed the antioxidant skin-care space. There have been many copycats since, but the OG is still beloved by skin experts all over the world. “SkinCeuticals revolutionized antioxidants, and C E Ferulic is still the gold-standard,” Dr. Elias adds.

Breslin agrees, saying there is power in combining antioxidants versus using vitamin C alone. “I like the skinbetter science Alto Advanced Defense Serum, which has a blend of 20 antioxidants, including vitamins C and E plus niacinamide,” she says. “This makes it a far superior option than a basic over-the-counter vitamin C.” However, in terms of which antioxidants are “better” or “stronger” than their counterparts, Dr. Longwill says it’s tough to pin them against each other. “Each one has different benefits, so it depends on the skin concern you are targeting.”

Can antioxidants help to clear skin?

“Yes, antioxidants can help to clear acne-prone skin by reducing inflammation, controlling sebum production and preventing bacterial growth,” explains Dr. Behr. “Antioxidants like vitamin C have anti-inflammatory properties, which can soothe redness and irritation associated with acne. Additionally, antioxidants help to neutralize free radicals that contribute to skin inflammation and acne formation. However, while antioxidants can be beneficial in managing acne, they are often used in conjunction with other acne-fighting ingredients for comprehensive skin-care routines.” If you have post-acne marks and/or scars, Dr. Longwill adds that antioxidants with brightening benefits can be helpful to aid in reducing hyperpigmentation and support the skin barrier.

Retinol (vitamin A) is also an antioxidant, and Breslin says that its anti-inflammatory and comedolytic effects make it great for treating acne. “And, the hyperpigmentation left behind by acne,” she adds.

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