Free radicals are unstable atoms that form during a cell’s normal metabolic change period. Over time, free radicals can oxidize, leading to skin damage that shows up as acne, dark spots, and even wrinkles. Using antioxidants can help slow or even stop this process. But what are they, and how exactly do they help?
What Are Antioxidants?
The name “antioxidant” essentially refers to a group of vitamins and foods that can chemically fight the oxidation process, neutralizing the effects of free radicals. This chemical property is found in foods high in nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, selenium, and beta-carotene¹. Using these naturally occurring nutrients in skincare gives products the same protective properties.
Main Benefits of Skin Antioxidants
Preventing Oxidative Stress
Oxidative stress can cause the breakdown of collagen. Collagen is what keeps skin plump and elastic. When collagen breaks down, it can lead to sagging, fine lines, and, eventually, even deeper wrinkles. Free radicals can also trigger changes in the melanin production in your cells. Ultimately, this form of oxidative stress can result in dark spots and an uneven tone².
Offering Sun Protection
Sun damage is one of the biggest visible effects of free radicals. Antioxidants, however, are naturally anti-inflammatory, which adds a layer of protection from sun damage. That being said, antioxidants are not a substitute for sunscreen and should be used in conjunction with those products.
Promoting Skin Renewal
Inflammation stops the skin’s self-repair process. One of the biggest ways that your skin stays healthy is through its own process of renewal and repair. However, skin inflammation can inhibit this repair cycle. Antioxidants protect the skin by preventing free radicals from inflaming the skin and disrupting its repair cycle.
Where Can You Find Antioxidants in Skincare?
Luckily, there are many antioxidant-rich ingredients that can be used in skincare. Here are a few examples you might see on your vanity or on store shelves.
Retinol is a concentrated form of Vitamin A. This ingredient is ideal for targeting more intense skincare concerns, such as deeper-set wrinkles. This powerful ingredient is effective, but some people may find it irritating.
Vitamin C is one of the most popular skincare ingredients currently, and for a good reason. Its benefits include boosting collagen production and brightening the skin. Vitamin C can also help reduce dark spots from blemishes for a more even complexion.
Vitamin E can help to accelerate the skin’s ability to heal and can be effective in decreasing the buildup of scar tissue. Research on the vitamin’s effects indicates that it can help skin retain moisture, especially when included in a moisturizer formula, and reduce signs of UV damage³.
Niacinamide, or Vitamin B3, is known for its ability to soothe and reduce inflammation. This can help with hyperpigmentation and help boost collagen production. This is particularly effective for rosacea and acne⁴.
How Should You Incorporate Antioxidants Into Your Skincare Routine?
Depending on the type and concentration of the ingredients you use, it can be easy to incorporate antioxidants throughout your routine. Just remember to start slowly when using higher concentrations of ingredients like retinol and vitamin C to minimize the risk of skin irritation.
In some cases, it can be beneficial to mix antioxidants because some of them can work together to become more effective. This is especially true of lower concentrations of vitamin C and niacinamide to brighten the skin⁵.
When making any changes to your skincare routine, it’s essential to incorporate only one new product at a time. Start by trying a product out a couple of times a week, and be on the lookout for any changes in your skin, such as acne or rashes.
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1. The Nutrition Source: Antioxidants. Harvard School of Public Health. Retrieved on April 13, 2023, from
2. Nunez, K. (10 October 2021). What is Oxidative Stress & What Does It Do to Skin? Our Deep Dive. MindBodyGreen. Retrieved on April 13, 2023, from
3. Vitamin E for Skin: What Does It Do? Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved on April 13, 2023, from
4. Wnek, D. (28 April 2020). Everything You need to Know About Niacinamide, According to Skincare Pros. Good Housekeeping. Retrieved on April 13, 2023, from
5. Coelho, S. (22 March 2022). Can You Use Both Vitamin C and Niacinamide in Your Skin Care Routine? Healthline. Retrieved on April 13, 2023, from