The best antioxidants for your skin
Posted on January 29 2020
Looking for healthier skin? An antioxidant boost might be your answer. These powerful compounds are praised as skin-care saviours for good reason. However, it can sometimes be difficult to know which antioxidants to opt for. We’ve put together some of the best to give you a good idea of where to start. First up, here’s a reminder of what exactly antioxidants do.
What are antioxidants, anyway?
To really understand antioxidants, you first need to figure out free radicals. Free radicals are reactive, unstable molecules with unpaired electrons. To put it simply, they’re particles that can cause damage when they multiply in your body.1 Free radicals bounce around looking for electrons to pair with, and this process of scavenging is what causes all sorts of DNA, cell, and protein damage. Your skin is particularly sensitive to this process. Unfortunately, these destructive little particles are generated by everything from pollution to sunshine. But the good news is, antioxidants are here to fight back.
Antioxidants are the compounds that protect and prevent free radical damage. You can defend your body both topically and internally by loading up on them. They act as a defense system against these damaging free radicals, protecting your skin (and the rest of your body) from oxidative stress.2 Antioxidants are able to bind an electron to those unstable free radicals to neutralize them. This is good news when it comes to your skincare routine.
Can you apply antioxidants to your skin?
There’s plenty of antioxidant-packed skincare out there. But what are the ingredients that really make a difference? Your skincare might claim to combat signs of aging, calm inflammation, and even brighten your complexion, but this all depends on what antioxidants are involved. It can be hard to pin down what’s best to use as part of your skincare routine, but here are a few ingredients you can look out for:
1) Vitamin C
As a potent antioxidant, vitamin C helps boost collagen production and brighten your complexion. When it’s applied to your skin, it penetrates the skin cells, activates due to your skin’s water content, and starts fighting off free radicals.3 However, your skin cells have oil barriers. So, it’s best to pair with an oil-soluble antioxidant (like vitamin E). You’ll get more out of vitamin C when it’s in a pure, concentrated form (look for L-ascorbic acid on the ingredient list). This means choosing your skincare carefully.
2) Vitamin E
Next on the list is this healing super-vitamin. Not only is it anti-inflammatory, it also protects against free radicals and premature aging, and helps keep your skin supple. It shields and heals your skin, meaning it’s often found in products that target dry skin or protect against pollution.4 It’s also even more effective when paired with vitamin C, so as long as your skin isn’t too sensitive, you might want to try combining the two.
You might not have heard of this one, but it’s just as powerful as anything else on the list! This potent antioxidant helps to prevent damage and repair your skin from external aggressors and environmental stress.5 Resveratrol helps protect your skin’s surface and brightens your complexion. It also has significant skin-calming properties that could help minimize the look of redness.
How effective is antioxidant skincare?
So, you know there are plenty of products to choose from if you want to apply antioxidant-based skincare. However, it’s important to remember that there could be drawbacks to relying solely on skincare for your antioxidant fix. It’s sometimes a bit of a balancing act. For example, vitamin C might be your go-to for brightened, glowing skin, but if you rely on skin products alone, there are a few things to look out for.
First off, not all topical vitamin C products out there are of equal quality. If the brand doesn’t put a percentage on the packaging, you have no idea whether you’re getting an effective product or not. You might think you’re being sold a vitamin C serum, but in reality, if there’s not 10-20% of the antioxidant in the formula, it might not live up to your expectations.6
There’s also the problem of what else has been snuck into your skincare. For example, a vitamin E day cream isn’t going to do your skin much cop if it’s packed full of parabens and parfum. Packaging can also be a problem, particularly when it comes to Vitamin C. As an ingredient, the vitamin is unstable, especially if it’s revealed to the sun, air, or just left out overtime. This means the packaging needs to be dark and airtight. So, there’s lots to consider when choosing antioxidants for your skin. Moisturizers and serums are one way to get a boost of antioxidants, but another effective way to get your fix is via your diet.
How can you get antioxidants from your diet?
There are plenty of ways to care for your complexion from the inside out. You can top up with nutritious nibbles, or choose to supplement your diet. Full of all the good stuff, these are a few of our favorites you should be consuming regularly if you want a healthy glow:
Tomatoes are loaded with powerful antioxidants such as lycopene, lutein and beta-carotene. By upping your lycopene intake, you can boost the health of collagen in your skin, as well as calm any inflammation.7 Beta-carotene, which is a type of carotenoid found in red and orange veggies, also offers up plenty of protection. Your body converts this to vitamin A, which regulates cell production to keep your skin smooth.8
This tasty fruit is jam-packed with nutrients and antioxidants. Not only do cherries pack in a good helping of vitamins A, B, C and E, they also contain a flavonoid called anthocyanin. This anthocyanin content helps your skin by feeding directly on free radicals, protecting you from oxidative damage.9 This also reduces the production of MMP, which are enzymes that can degrade your skin elastin and collagen if levels become elevated.
A go-to healthy snack for good reason, there are plenty of antioxidants on offer here. Brazil nuts are chock-full of selenium, which helps neutralize free radicals before premature wrinkles can form. It also protects against UV damage and inflammation.10 Cashews are loaded with selenium as well as zinc, which is another skin superstar. The two together hydrate your skin, with zinc also promoting healing and cell growth. Almonds are great sources of vitamin E, which works to hydrate and heal your skin’s top layers. Nuts are generally all rich sources of nutrients to support your skin.
As hard as you might try to eat a rounded, healthy diet, sometimes it’s just unrealistic to get every nutrient you need from food. This is where supplements come in. If you’re aware you’re not getting the antioxidants you need from food alone, you can always opt for a supplement to top up your levels.
However, you should be sure to opt for something high-quality. We’re talking no fillers, binders or nasties, particularly when they’re not needed. You could go for pure L-ascorbic acid if you choose to supplement with vitamin C, and the ease of a combination tablet if you want to top up with Selenium or Zinc. Whether you choose to get your nutrients via food or supplementation, it’s important to always keep topped up with the essentials.
What to remember
Antioxidants are key for healthy skin, whatever way you get your fix. An antioxidant-rich diet is essential if you want to protect your skin from issues such as inflammation and premature aging. It’s true that healthy and happy skin requires a good few factors, but with the right routine and ingredients, you’ll be well on your way in no time.
1 Rahman K. (2007). Studies on free radicals, antioxidants, and co-factors. Clinical interventions in aging, 2(2), 219–236.
2 Lobo, V., Patil, A., Phatak, A., & Chandra, N. (2010). Free radicals, antioxidants and functional foods: Impact on human health. Pharmacognosy reviews, 4(8), 118–126.
3 Pullar, J. M., Carr, A. C., & Vissers, M. (2017). The Roles of Vitamin C in Skin Health. Nutrients, 9(8), 866. doi:10.3390/nu9080866.
4 Keen, M. A., & Hassan, I. (2016). Vitamin E in dermatology. Indian dermatology online journal, 7(4), 311–315.
5 Anna Ratz-Łyko & Jacek Arct (2019) Resveratrol as an active ingredient for cosmetic and dermatological applications: a review, Journal of Cosmetic and Laser Therapy, 21:2, 84-90.
6 Al-Niaimi, F., & Chiang, N. (2017). Topical Vitamin C and the Skin: Mechanisms of Action and Clinical Applications. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology, 10(7), 14–17.
5 Story, E. N., Kopec, R. E., Schwartz, S. J., & Harris, G. K. (2010). An update on the health effects of tomato lycopene. Annual review of food science and technology, 1, 189–210.
6 Schagen, S. K., Zampeli, V. A., Makrantonaki, E., & Zouboulis, C. C. (2012). Discovering the link between nutrition and skin aging. Dermato-endocrinology, 4(3), 298–307.
6 Khoo, H. E., Azlan, A., Tang, S. T., & Lim, S. M. (2017). Anthocyanidins and anthocyanins: colored pigments as food, pharmaceutical ingredients, and the potential health benefits. Food & nutrition research, 61(1), 1361779.
6 Tinggi U. (2008). Selenium: its role as antioxidant in human health. Environmental health and preventive medicine, 13(2), 102–108.