How to Choose the Right Antioxidant For Your Skin Type, According to Experts
outside of sunscreen, there’s probably not a category of ingredients more universally beloved by skin experts than antioxidants. With their ability to protect the skin against damage caused by free radicals (those unstable molecules that steal electrons from healthy cells to stabilize themselves, weakening your innocent skin cells in the process), antioxidants are a versatile addition to any skincare regimen.
When it comes to incorporating one into your routine, there is a diverse range of antioxidants to choose from. While they all technically perform the same function of protecting your skin from oxidative stress, blending antioxidants with other ingredients can benefit the skin. It’s all about finding the one that works best with your skin type and concerns.
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With that in mind, we spoke to Dr. Mona Gohara, a Connecticut-based dermatologist and associate professor of Dermatology at Yale School of Medicine, and Jennifer Kennedy, a registered nurse at Manhattan’s prestigious PFRANKMD by Dr. Paul Jarrod Frank, to learn everything you need to know about antioxidants. Plus, they share their favorite antioxidant products for every skin type.
How do Antioxidants Work?
To understand why antioxidants are so important for your skin, you have to know how they work. "Antioxidants are substances that are a crucial part of everyone's skincare routine because they are the hardest working ingredient in the game," Dr. Gohara says. "Essentially, the sole purpose of antioxidants is to protect your cells against free radicals by giving up some of their electrons, acting as a natural 'off' switch for the free radicals."
Your skin is bombarded by environmental aggressors—like pollution in the air and the blue light from your computer screen—that can cause oxidative stress every day. That damage adds up over time. "Oxidative stress can lead to premature wrinkles, loss of elastin, decreased moisture, increased pigmentation, and a reduction in the moisture barrier," Kennedy explains.
If you're looking to protect against free radical damage, any antioxidant will get the job done. However, each of the six tried-and-true ingredients ahead has powerful alternative benefits for the skin.
You’ll often see multiple antioxidants paired together in a single product as they boost the efficacy of other ingredients. This tends to be a bonus because you get more effective free radical protection and can target multiple skin concerns at once.
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is loved for its protective powers against oxidative stress and its ability to play nice with other free-radical fighters to maximize efficacy. "Vitamin C is known to fix common complexion concerns such as uneven skin tone, rough texture, fine lines, acne scars, and general dullness," Dr. Gohara says.
Kennedy notes Vitamin C works best with fellow antioxidants like vitamin E and ferulic acid, an organic compound found in the cell walls of plants like oats, brown rice, and apples. Vitamin C is also a great addition to your daily sun protection regimen. While SPF protects you from the sun's UV rays, it doesn't protect your skin from free radicals. Pairing an antioxidant like vitamin C with your broad-spectrum sunscreen will make sure your skin is fully protected.