Antioxidants in skincare – what do they do?

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What is an antioxidant?

Free radicals are highly reactive molecules with unpaired electrons that are known to damage various cellular structural membranes, lipids, proteins, and DNA. It is one of the widely accepted mechanisms that lead to skin ageing.

The body can be exposed to free radicals from environmental exposures (as well as intrinsic exposures), such as cigarette smoke, air pollution, and ultraviolet radiation from the sun. Consequently, the body employs antioxidants which aim to protect cells from the damaging effects of free radicals.

Of course the skincare industry has taken full advantage of these all powerful antioxidants, where they are frequently found in many skincare products. More on the specifics below!

Specific antioxidants in skincare

1) Vitamin C:

Vitamin C reacts rapidly with free radicals; it is widely understood that vitamin C’s antioxidant properties are partly responsible for its biological activity.

Vitamin C is the most prevalent antioxidant already present in our skin. This vitamin is also required for collagen production and has use in the reduction of fine lines. Thus, topical application of vitamin C has been shown to have many positive effects on the skin, ranging from collagen production to protection from environmental stressors.

2) Niacinamide:

Niacinamide has been shown to behave as an antioxidant as well as improve epidermal barrier function, decrease skin hyperpigmentation, reduce fine lines and wrinkles, amongst other things. So best believe we recommend niacinamide for antioxidant purposes.

3) Vitamin E:

Vitamin E is a fat-soluble antioxidant and has been in use for more than 50 years in dermatology. Vitamin E is commonly used in the treatment of burns, surgical scars, and wounds. 

4) Retinol:

So we know retinol is great for the reduction of fine lines and acne, cell renewal and collagen production, but it also works as an antioxidant to protect our skin from free radicals.

Top picks

Vitamin C

Neutrogena Rapid Tone Repair 20% Vitamin C Brightening Serum Capsules

These come in capsule form to protect vitamin C from the environment and avoid its degradation. Although less cost effective per use, the product itself is generally more effective than non-capsule forms. This product also boasts 20% vitamin C.

La Roche-Posay Pure Vitamin C Face Serum

For those with less sensitive skin or acne prone skin, then this serum might be a good option for you! Along with 10% vitamin C, this serum also contains salicylic acid. Although a BHA, since salicylic acid has been formulated into this product pH needn’t be a worry, but those with sensitive skin should steer clear. This serum also contains hyaluronic acid – great for parched skin.


Paula’s Choice CLINICAL 20% Niacinamide serum

This serum contains an unprecedented concentration of niacinamide – in a consumer study 81% of people agreed that this serum improved their overall skin tone. Other key ingredients include liquorice extract (for anti-oxidant benefits) and vitamin C (for fine lines and hyperpigmentation).

The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% Serum

Another budget-friendly serum is the 10% niacinamide serum by The Ordinary, also containing 1% zinc (as zinc PCA) to help those with acne-prone skin due to its anti-inflammatory properties.

Vitamin E

Brandefy 15% L. Ascorbic Acid, Ferulic Acid .5% + Vitamin E Serum

This serum is full of antioxidants that combines 15% pure vitamin C, 0.5% ferulic acid and vitamin E, providing environmental protection while reducing oxidative damage.

RejuveNaturals Natural Vitamin E Oil

RejuveNaturals Natural Vitamin E Oil has a bioavailability twice as potent as synthetic vitamin E. Just a few drops go a long way in hydrating, softening, balancing and protecting your skin.


The Ordinary Retinol 1% in Squalane

The Ordinary’s very affordable retinol packs a big punch so for beginners it may be best to start with Retinol 0.2% in Squalane and slowly work your way up to Retinol 0.5% in Squalane and then Retinol 1% in Squalane.

La Roche-Posay Pure Retinol Face Serum with Vitamin B3

This Pure Retinol & Vitamin B3 serum visibly reduces the look of lines, wrinkles and signs of premature sun damage.