Antioxidants Are Winners In Skincare

Antioxidants are all the rage in skincare and have been for decades. Marketing teams have hyped the benefits of antioxidants to consumers as ‘This is good for you go buy it’ but rarely educate the consumer why antioxidants are such an important part of a formulation. Today we’re going to deep dive a little bit into antioxidants and why that class of ingredients is crucial in a successful skincare regimen.

What is an Antioxidant?

Antioxidants are a class of compounds that target free radicals. Free radicals are missing an electron and are little bastards who steal electrons. Honey badger don’t care. Those stolen electrons can lead to cancer, that’s kind of the nuclear option, premature aging, sun spots, tissue degradation in general, inflammation, and hundreds of other known and unknown things. It’s a lot with several independent processes being affected. Collectively, it’s referred to as free radical damage. Sources of free radicals can be almost anywhere, our own body makes them as a function of life.

For the chemistry minded individuals. Cartoon showing how antioxidants neutralize free radicals. Illustration by Mekhi Baldwin.

Antioxidants can prevent those free radicals from being formed by offering a spare electron, scavenge them (again by offering up a spare electron), or help degrade them. Green tea is an amazing source of antioxidants, as are most fruits, vegetables, and spices. Our body also creates antioxidants to fight against the free radicals it creates.

photo of person using bamboo whisk on making matcha drink
Photo by Charlotte May on

Natural versus Synthetic Antioxidants

Natural does not necessarily mean it’s an antioxidant directly extracted from a natural source like a plant. In the form of spices and teas that we consume those are true natural sources. In the form of skincare ingredients like Vitamin C, it’s almost guaranteed to be from a laboratory-made source. It’s inexpensive to produce Vitamin C on an industrial level because so much of it is used. If it were plant extracted, the amount of plant waste would be intense.

Using plant extracts is expensive and can produce varied results. When we buy skincare we want products that work consistently. Synthetic antioxidants are going to give you the same results if all you want is something to stop those pesky free radicals. Synthetically produced antioxidants will likely be better environmentally, have higher potency, and work the same way.

Best Antioxidants For Your Money

Without a doubt, if you can find a powdered Vitamin C such as Philosophy’s Turbo Booster C Powder (non-affiliated link) is going to be the least expensive, most shelf stable form you can buy. Once it gets wet, Vitamin C will degrade quickly. There are also other dry formulations on Amazon that I have not tried such as ResurrectionBeauty L-Ascorbic Acid powder. The L in front of the Ascorbic Acid is a chemistry term that denotes it’s configuration (chiral center for those who wanted to look it up). There’s an L- or D-ascorbic acid. For skincare, the important one is L-ascorbic acid. I’ve never seen anything with a D although most don’t mention L or D.

Vitamin C has been shown to:

  • help increase collagen
  • Even skin tone
  • Prevent hyperpigmentation
  • Assist in UV-protection (emphasis on assist when used with a sunscreen not as a replacement)
  • Is significantly lower in photodamaged skin telling me its a key component in preventing photodamage
  • and Oh so much more

All of that makes sense with how an antioxidant works. The list of pros to using Vitamin C in your skincare regimen is as long as my weekly shopping bill. I cannot recommend it enough after proper cleansing, moisturizing. and sunscreen. If your budget allows I’d absolutely look towards Vitamin C. The RessurectionBeauty is $13 USD for 6 ounces. That’ll last awhile too if it’s kept closed when not in use and away from moisture. Even Philosophy’s Turbo Booster C Powder lasts me several months.

Other antioxidants that are less popular (Vitamin C reigns supreme among antioxidants by a landslide) include green tea or products like Juno Antioxident + Superfood Face Oil from Sunday Riley that include plant extracts known to contain a high level of antioxidants such as blueberries, blackberries, green tea, raspberries, and even hemp.

Another winner for me is Supergoop! Play SPF 50 with Vitamin C. It’s a low percentage of Vitamin C but it’s a great antioxidant that is true skincare. It’s the sunscreen I use, I put it on my 1yo as well when we’re out as well. My rosacia husband also uses it. It’s also SPF 50, PA++++. Win, win, and win. It is more expensive though.

What To Look For When Shopping

Do label check. Very often the generic sounding antioxidant serum or racial spray uses Vitamin C as it’s primary or sole source of antioxidants. I would highly suggest a powdered version of Vitamin C even if it’s slightly more expensive in the short term. It’s always cheaper over time. You get far more bang for your buck using the dry formulations and they’re more stable over time. Do mix them with your serum for maximum benefit and do apply to the neck area as well.

Don’t feel like more expensive equals better. The dry ingredients they start with very often come from the same source as what the drug store companies are using. Do try to check the % antioxidant that’s present in what you buy.

The Literatures

Clearly I’m feeling a little spicy today while I have one of the first colds I’ve had in almost 3 years. Thanks, COVID quarantines. Here is the further reading section of studies that were either cool but I didn’t use directly or that I did end up citing directly.

Antioxidants – an overview

Topical Vitamin C and the Skin: Mechanisms of Action and Clinical Applications

The Role of Vitamin C in Skin Health

If you don’t believe me. Dr. Shereene Idriss gives a great breakdown of why it’s important to use Vitamin C in a skincare routine and the different formulations. She’s also really fun to watch and her videos aren’t 30 mins long.

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