In the fields of health, wellness, and skincare, emerging research and attention-grabbing trends shift the zeitgeist with a near daily speed. And while we love looking to experts to give us the scoop on all that’s new and in the now, what’s most fascinating is the science-backed, tried-and-true practices and ingredients that keep our mornings and evenings simple, streamlined, and sustainable. With that in mind, keep reading for the ultimate breakdown of the antioxidant benefits for skin to show you how this magical MVP of skincare can shine in your routine.
You’ve likely heard or at least come across articles sharing antioxidants’ role in helping you maintain a healthy diet, but did you know this class of ingredients can be applied topically to our skin for a fresh, glowing, and radiant complexion, too? Keep scrolling to learn more and understand how we can incorporate these free radical-neutralizing ingredients into any healthy skincare routine.
What is an antioxidant?
Antioxidants are written and spoken about everywhere but it’s hard to offer up a clear and concise definition when asked what antioxidants are. And in a similar vein, while we know we should be making antioxidants a crucial component of our skin health regimen, you’re probably also a little fuzzy on the why.
Antioxidants are a group of naturally-occurring compounds working hard to protect your cells from damage. Free radicals, which are unstable molecules, are constantly being formed in your body and are caused by outside influences like pollution, poor air quality, sunlight, and smoking, among other factors. They are also caused internally through digestion and the lymphatic system.
Essentially, antioxidants prevent free radicals from doing serious damage to our body. Two conditions that are often top of mind when it comes to skin health, inflammation and premature aging, can result from changes in our cells caused by free radicals. Antioxidants have extra electrons and are able to donate an electron to free radicals, deactivating them and preventing them from continually causing damage. However, the goal isn’t to remove or even neutralize all free radicals — balancing free radicals and antioxidants is key to helping your body and skin be at their best.
What are antioxidants’ role in our skincare routine?
Antioxidants are everywhere, they show up in over-the-counter products as well as medical-grade skincare. These topical treatments are an important step in keeping our skin healthy and protected. Since the skin is the largest organ of the body, providing it with antioxidant health is one of the best ways to neutralize free radicals that affect it environmentally and topically.
The list of benefits antioxidant-rich skincare products can provide is nothing short of impressive. Calming inflammation, slowing down the effects of aging, and protecting against UV damage are all included.
Can you mix and match antioxidants?
By now we are all aware that less is more when it comes to skincare, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted to pile on antioxidant-packed skincare to reap the myriad benefits. But could this do more harm than good? Turns out, mixing and matching antioxidants is perfectly okay. You’ll never see the word ‘antioxidant’ on your skincare ingredients list. The point of all antioxidants is to fight free radical damage.
If you’ve done some digging already into antioxidants, then you likely know a little about Vitamin C. Well-loved and widely-studied, Vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid) is a key player in forming healthy skin tissue. Vitamin C boosts collagen production, protects against oxidative stress, and offers up visible anti-aging benefits.
Everyone should use some sort of vitamin C, however, there are different variations for all skin types. The difficulty with Vitamin C is finding one that is properly formulated as this ingredient is notoriously misused in skincare due to its instability and difficulty in formulations.
Vitamin E is the essential fatty antioxidant that can really do no wrong. Also referred to as alpha-tocopherol, when applied topically, Vitamin E soothes and heals cuts and scars by speeding up the body’s natural healing process.
Vitamin E helps in neutralizing free radicals, moisturizing skin, and improves the appearance of aging skin.
If you have sensitive skin, vitamin E is perfect for you. Vitamin E is often combined with Vitamin C products, a particularly effective combo for those with sensitive and dry skin.
This darling of the skincare world is getting a lot of attention lately and it’s all well-deserved. It provides a whole host of benefits without any uncomfortable side effects (irritation and skin damage. Niacinamide (vitamin B3) has been shown to strengthen the skin’s moisture barrier by reducing the appearance of discoloration and blotchiness and helps fade dark marks. Niacinamide is also primarily in products designed for discoloration as a result of photo aging and sun damage so reapplying your sunscreen all throughout the sunny months and beyond.
Retinol is everywhere these days, and contrary to what you may have heard, it’s an antioxidant that we can all benefit from incorporating into our skincare routine starting in our mid-20s. This skincare hero comes with no shortage of amazing advantages. Improving texture, taming acne, minimizing the appearance of pores, slowing down the skin’s aging — you name it, retinol does it. Retinol speeds up cell turnover and firms the skin by plumping up fine lines and wrinkles. Another antioxidant that increases collagen stimulation, retinol is my go-to buzzy skin saver.
Before you go out and buy a bottle, know that retinol isn’t for everyone. Those experiencing rosacea, eczema, or psoriasis should be particularly cautious or avoid it altogether. If you have a sensitive complexion, it’s possible that retinol may irritate your skin. However, there are varying strengths of retinol. It’s just a matter of finding one that you can control the tolerability of and using products with it that helps to minimize redness and irritation.
Raise your hand if you’ve heard of polyphenols because red wine is full of them. Of course, your glass of wine isn’t the only source of polyphenols, they’re actually the most prevalent antioxidant found in a well-balanced diet. Fruits, veggies, teas, spices, you name it, eat it, or drink it, it could very well contain polyphenols.
Tread cautiously when it comes to treating polyphenols as a miracle cure, as more work needs to be done in understanding the benefits of these antioxidants. Polyphenols have been shown to be effective in limiting UV exposure, but more research and incorporation into products is needed. At present, topically-applied products containing polyphenols often have a green tea base which can be irritating to a wide array of skin types.
Who doesn’t love hyaluronic acid? It’s technically not an antioxidant, it does play well with antioxidant-containing products.
When used topically, hyaluronic acid can have a plumping effect on the skin, reducing the visibility of fine lines and wrinkles. It moisturizes and provides structure for cells, supporting improved skin texture and all-around smooth skin. However, hyaluronic acid must be in the right formulation or it doesn’t absorb at all.
Have you started incorporating antioxidants into your skincare routine?