Antioxidants in Skincare

What are antioxidants?

Substances that occur naturally in plant – based foods (fruits, vegetables, coffee, tea, wine and chocolate) which prevent cell damage caused by oxidants (free radicals found in the environment and produced by our body).

How antioxidants work in skincare products?

Free radicals kick off a chain reaction that causes a huge path of destruction including death of cells. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals and thus halt that process.

Why use antioxidants in skincare?

Our bodies naturally produce their own antioxidants which neutralize 99.9% of free radicals. However, by the age of thirty, our cells slow down the speed of production of antioxidants which means that our bodies do not eliminate free radicals fast enough. This is the time when collagen depletion sets in and we start to notice appearance of fine lines, etc.

By adding antioxidants to the skincare, our skin is able to realize following benefits:

  • Stimulated circulation and cell metabolism
  • Anti-inflammation properties
  • Skin firming
  • Reduced appearance of wrinkles
  • Sun damage repair

The fact that antioxidants are all kinds of awesome seems to be the generally accepted and agreed upon statement. I have read so much about antioxidants’ good ness that I took it to be universal and absolute. Little did I know about the three key factors involved:

  Reality Questions asked by skincare companies? Solution
Stability Antioxidants are easily perishable:   Exposure to air and light facilitates the breakdown of antioxidants


How to keep antioxidant products stable?


Many antioxidant lotions, creams and serums are packaged in airtight containers. They are also packaged in dark brown, blue or opaque bottles and in metal tubes. 


Ferulic acid is emerging as an effective stabilizer for such products as well


It is critically important to follow expiration dates mentioned on the product


Absorption Antioxidants that are ingested either in food or supplements are circulated throughout the body and absorbed into cells. There is a concern that topical application of antioxidants means that they will not be absorbed and instead will simply sit on top of the skin


How well are antioxidants actually absorbed?


Many studies confirm that, when topically applied, antioxidants do get absorbed into the cells of the stratum corneum (the topmost layer of the skin).


Antioxidants neutralize free radicals on the surface layers of the skin and trigger the system to fight anything that is deeper. You need to ensure that your diet is rich in antioxidants in order for this part of the deal to work!


 Concentration   What concentrations   are necessary to make antioxidants effective while still being non – irritating?


There is an antioxidant to address all our environmental ills and there is optimal concentration for each antioxidant! 



Antioxidants used in skincare:

The list of antioxidants used in skincare is endless. In fact, it seems like every month forests of Tanzania and Amazon jungles gift us with newly found ingredients that “revolutionize” the ingredient lists of beauty products making it harder and harder to keep up. Following a only a few examples of antioxidants found in facial skincare products:

  Pros Cons Be aware
Vitamin C Stimulates new collagen formation in sun damaged skin


Helps to even the tone and texture of the skin


Calming and soothing


pH dependant so best to be applied separately from facial acids


Makes skin sun sensitive. If not used properly, it might contribute to skin pigmentation. As such, it is best used at night


Often listed as ascorbic acid, tetraxyldecyl ascorbate,  etc


Effective concentration is 0.5% – 20%.


Ingestion of Vitamin C does not   seem to affect the state of the skin as much


Vitamin E It is more effective when topically applied compared to oral supplements


Defends skin from UV light exposure


Powerful enhancer of Vitamin C




Often listed as tocopherol or tocotrienol


Vitamin E is available in two forms: alpha – tocopherol (alcohol based) and alpha – tocopherol acetate. The latter does not penetrate the skin as easily so make sure you read the label closely and choose wisely



(technical term for   Vitamin A)



Antioxidant and skin- restoring ingredient


Strong anti-aging properties


Helps to unclog congested pores


Retinol might cause dry skin condition



 Resveratol  Protects against UVB – mediated cutaneous damage


Inhibits UVB – mediated oxidative stress



(Vitamin B3)






Even skin tone and texture





General guidelines:

Antioxidants work best when you use all-encompassing and systematic approach: Ensure that your diet is antioxidants rich. Also apply antioxidants as part of your skincare and reinforce your intentions by applying sunscreen daily!


When it comes to your skin and antioxidants, remember the old adage: “There is strength in numbers”. The more antioxidant rich the product is the better!


Remember that antioxidants are easily perishable so make sure to purchase products in airtight and light blocking containers. Otherwise you are wasting your money and “hurting” the skin


Antioxidants are great for the skin but they are absorbed only into the topmost layer of the skin. As such, they are great to use after the exfoliation.


However, make sure to remember that some antioxidants are neutralized by the facial acids or simply should be combined with facial acids.



Avoid following combinations:

Retinol with AHA / BHA products When used together, they are very likely to cause redness and irritation It is best to use them at different times of the day or week
Retinol and Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C) Retinol works best at pH level of 5.5 – 6. Vitamin C works best at pH of 3.5 and lower. It is impossible to formulate a product where they would work together If you use them both at the same time, you are wasting a product
Niacinamide and Vitamin C Niacinamide “kills” potency of Vitamin C. Also, the combination of the two makes the skin flush (i.e. causes redness)… It is best to use them during different times of the day or week
AHAs and Vitamin C AHAs change the pH of Vitamin C enough to destabilize it



Thanks for reading,

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