We’re sure you’re more than aware of the powers they possess to fight free radicals produced from environmental stresses such as pollution, sun damage and cigarette smoke. But antioxidants are not simply about keeping free radicals in their place – in fact their skin benefits are almost endless. Some have the ability to boost the efficacy of your sunscreen, while others do wonders in helping your skin skin repair itself as you catch some overnight ZZZs.
But first things first: what actually is an antioxidant? Well, it’s basically a molecule that can offer up electrons to skin-damaging free radicals while maintaining its own stability.
Hold on, though, what’s a free radical? Good question. A free radical is a chemically unstable atom or group of atoms with unpaired electrons in its outermost shell, often caused by exposure to heat, light or pollution. To stabilize itself, a free radical will steal electrons from another molecule which, in turn, transforms that molecule into a free radical and so on and so forth. If left to run riot, this chain of events ends up destroying things like DNA, collagen and elastin.
The human body has a pretty hard-working antioxidant defense mechanism, but when subjected to overexposure to the sun, a wine-fuelled Friday night out or, heaven forbid, a barrage of cigarette smoke, it becomes overwhelmed with free radicals and simply can’t keep up.
This is where an army of external antioxidants in your skincare plan (as well as your diet) can come to the rescue.
All manner of trendy skincare antioxidants come and go, but like recent American Idol winners, if they don’t prove their abilities they will never have the staying power of the Kelly Clarksons and Carrie Underwoods of the world.
This is why we’ve come up with our list of the top, proven antioxidants for addressing the signs of aging. And our final piece of advice when incorporating an antioxidant treatment into your skincare plan? Always choose a medical-grade solution prescribed by your derm and for the most visible results, choose a product that contains a cocktail of at least two antioxidants. Why? Because, just like One Direction, antioxidants are far powerful in packs than they are on their own.
1. Ferulic Acid
Ferulic Acid is a plant-based antioxidant, derived from the cell walls of the seeds of a variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains. Found abundantly in rice, wheat, apples, oranges, peanuts and coffee, it’s been proven to be more potent than many other antioxidants. Its biggest impact, however, comes from combining it with other antioxidants such as vitamins C and E. Together they work synergistically to become more stable and therefore more effective in fighting against environmental aggressors.
“A daily application of pure l-ascorbic acid and vitamin E provides 4x skin’s natural environmental protection, but if you add ferulic acid into the mix, it can provide up to 8x protection when exposed to the same conditions,” explains Nicole Simpson, AVP of Global Education for SkinCeuticals.
One to try: SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic
Also known as vitamin B3, niacinamide is a water-soluble nutrient with the ability to increase ceramide and fatty acid levels in the skin. This makes it a very effective ingredient for preventing water loss. It has also been shown to suppress melanin from reaching the surface of the skin, therefore reducing the visibility of age spots, freckles and hyperpigmentation. All this, along with its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties – which include the ability to help repair UV-induced DNA damage – give it a real edge in the fight against premature aging.
Resveratrol is basically proof that red wine rocks (we type with a glass of Pinot firmly on our desks). A plant compound found most abundantly in the skin of red grapes, resveratrol is one of 600 antimicrobial compounds known as a phytoalexin, which is produced by plants to protect themselves from adverse conditions like ultraviolet light, infection and climatic changes. In skincare, it has been studied and proven to not only act as its very own antioxidant, but to also boost the internal antioxidant defense system by promoting the synthesis of other enzymatic antioxidants. Double. Whammy.
One to try: SkinCeuticals Resveratrol B E
“Retinol has always been a beauty must, simply because it’s the most well-studied topical treatment available. Numerous unbiased studies have proven its ability to thicken the skin and help with pigmentation issues, and recent research points towards an innate antioxidant effect,” says Walnut Creek-based facial plastic surgeon Dr. Haena Kim.
A fantastic, cell-communicating ingredient, retinol (a vitamin A derivative) basically has the ability to tell your skin to ‘act’ younger by increasing cell turnover and collagen production, while reducing the signs of extrinsic aging such as sun damage, fine lines and poor tone and texture. It also increases transepidermal water loss, however, which is why your skin may feel dry when using a retinol product for the first time. Our advice? Start with a low dosage of retinol such as 0.25 percent and apply it every other evening. As your skin acclimates, you can then build on both the percentage and frequency of use. Also, look out for retinol solutions containing hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid.
One to try: Jan Marini Age Intervention Retinol Plus
5. Vitamin C
Known for centuries as a potent ingredient for maintaining youthful, glowing skin, vitamin C is one of the most widely used antioxidants in skincare because of its superhero-like abilities to ward off free radicals. Applied regularly, vitamin C also treats the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, helps fade acne scars and uneven skin tone, boosts collagen production, reverses UV-related skin damage and enhances the overall effectiveness of sunscreen. Good effort. The problem, however, is that if it’s not formulated or packaged correctly, you may as well not bother. It should always come in an opaque, sealed, airtight container and be formulated in a low acidic pH level (anything above pH 3.5 won’t effectively penetrate the skin). For the most effective results, it should ideally be in a concentration of between 10 and 20 percent. Oh, and if you’re looking for the most effective forms of vitamin C, look no further than sodium ascorbyl phosphate, ascorbyl palmitate, retinyl ascorbate, magnesium ascorbyl phosphate and the most researched vitamin C champion of all, pure l-ascorbic acid.
One to try: ZO Medical C-Bright 10% Vitamin C Serum
6. Vitamin E
Like its infamous cousin C, vitamin E (or tocopherol if you prefer to be technical), is another skin-loving hero. A lipid-based antioxidant, it acts as an excellent moisturizing and healing ingredient, is super-protective of the cells’ membranes and very effective in preventing collagen breakdown and environmental damage. Its antioxidant properties work best when combined with vitamin C (heck, they are cousins, after all), which is why you’ll often come across combined C and E skincare solutions at the derm’s office.
One to try: SkinMedica Vitamin C+E Complex
Written by: Georgia Gould