Ever wondered what antioxidants really are? And why they’re always top of dermatologists’ list of skin priorities? Our easy expert guide explains all.
Antioxidants. It’s a word you’ve likely seen scrawled across countless creams, serums and essences but do you know what it means? Our guess is… probably not.
“Antioxidants have been the new big thing for a few years now,” explains Dr. Anjali Mahto, London-based dermatologist at Skin55 and author of The Skincare Bible: Your No-Nonsense Guide to Great Skin. “It’s hard to avoid coming across the word all the time in food and skincare but not a lot of people really understand them,”
They’re well worth getting your head round, though. Every skin expert we quiz says, along with sun protection, they’re invaluable when it comes to keeping your complexion radiant.
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Sold? To understand antioxidants’ superpowers, you’ll need to grasp the idea of free radicals. These are skin-damaging molecules released by things like air pollution, sunlight and cigarette smoke. Over time, they cause dullness, a loss of elasticity, fine lines, uneven texture and dark spots.
But free radicals’ worst enemy? Antioxidants – and these can be consumed in foods like goji berries, blueberries and kale as well as delivered to our skin topically via skincare.
There are all different kinds of antioxidants to choose from and most tend to boast another additional specialist skill, too.
Different types of antioxidants, explained
This antioxidant is a top choice if you’re looking to add a glow or fade dark spots. “Vitamin C has a number of roles alongside being an antioxidant. It is a brightening agent, an anti-inflammatory and also required for the synthesis of collagen, which gives our skin its important structure,” explains Dr. Mahto.
L-ascorbic acid is the purest kind. Look for products containing it at around 10- 20%.
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You’ll appreciate this one if you’re looking to soothe and nourish areas of dryness. “Vitamin E is commonly noted on the ingredient list as tocopherol or alpha-tocopherol acetate. This has been shown to reduce the number of sunburn cells and limit the potential damage associated with UVB radiation from sunlight,” comments Dr. Mahto.
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“Grapes, seeds, nuts and red wines are all sources of resveratrol. When applied directly to the skin’s surface, resveratrol can limit damage caused by UVB radiation, according to some small studies. It has also been shown to improve skin firmness and elasticity when used at a concentration of 1%.
“Due to resveratrol not being particularly water-soluble, creating creams that hold it is difficult and they can therefore be quite expensive. Unfortunately, you will not get the same benefits of resveratrol by increasing your red wine consumption!” Dr. Mahto advises.
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Other antioxidant wonder ingredients
Other antioxidants to make a beeline for? Green tea [good for calming redness], silymarin from milk thistle, coffeeberry and grape seed, according to Dr. Mahto.
Ferulic acid (from the cell walls of rice and oats) and retinol (vitamin A) are also excellent with the latter adept at blitzing uneven skin tone, large pores, rough texture, wrinkles and dullness as well as clogged pores.
Formulas combining both vitamin C and E are particularly powerful but all antioxidants (other than retinol) tend to work in synergy with each other so look for products loaded with a couple for the ultimate weapon.
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How to find the best antioxidant skincare products
There’s just one rule to remember: make sure your antioxidant products come in dark bottles or tubes rather than jars.
“Antioxidants can break down quickly, especially when exposed to air and sunlight, so they need to be formulated very carefully to ensure they remain effective,” Dr. Mahto adds.
From serums you can pop on before your night cream to clever sunscreens offering double protection, we’ve rounded up the best antioxidant products to add to to your routine. Take three seconds out to layer one on today and your skin will thank you…
Best antioxidant skincare products
Best all-rounder antioxidant serum: SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic Vitamin C Serum
Ask any dermatologist for their favourite antioxidant skincare product and you can bet your bathroom cabinet that this will come out tops.
The 15% L-ascorbic acid, 1% vitamin E and 0.5% ferulic acid triple whammy is patented, offering unrivalled protection from environmental damage.
Experts love its weightless texture that’ll slip into any skincare routine seamlessly. It’s super-pricey, yes, but if you’re after a proven, turbo-charged formula that’s guaranteed to keep ageing (and breakouts) at bay, this is a winner.
Shop SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic Vitamin C Serum at lookfantastic, £140, lookfantastic.com
Best antioxidant serum for sensitive skin: Avene A-Oxitive Antioxidant Defense Serum
When it comes to skincare, mighty needn’t mean harsh as this gentle giant proves. It’s just as skin-kind as you’d expect from Avene, formulated with their signature Thermal Spring Water that’s clinically proven to soothe and soften skin.
The antioxidant element comes from glucoside (a form of vitamin C) and pre-tocopheryl (from vitamin E). There’s hyaluronic acid in there, too, offering a hit of hydration.
Use it morning and night before moisturiser or in conjunction with the range’s antioxidant moisturising lotion – Avene A-Oxitive Antioxidant Water-Cream, £24. It feels a little thicker and more thirst-quenching but still comfortably light.
Shop Avene A-Oxitive Antioxidant Defense Serum at Boots, £27
Best affordable antioxidant serum: Garden of Wisdom Vitamin C 23% and Ferulic Acid
You can always count on Garden of Wisdom (GOW) for simple yet effective formulas that totally do the job. The packaging and branding might not look like much but the goodies inside more than make up for it.
This uses both high-strength pure L-ascorbic acid and ferulic acid for a combination that’s more akin to those offered by high-end skincare brands.
It feels silky but non-greasy and comes with a clever airless pump to keep the vitamin C in tip-top condition.
Best resveratrol antioxidant serum: The Ordinary Resveratrol 3% + Ferulic Acid 3%
Talk about bang for your buck. Despite the teeny price tag, this formulation houses a whopping 3% resveratrol and 3% ferulic acid – much higher levels that you’d find in most.
Free from water (that can affect the stability of antioxidants) as well as silicones, oils and alcohol, it delivers a concentrated veil of protection while improving skin tone and texture.
It may feel a little heavy if you like your products feather-light but you’ll find your skin quickly begins to look more radiant, even and refined. Just avoid if you’re super-sensitive as it’s strong stuff.
Shop The Ordinary Resveratrol 3% + Ferulic Acid 3% at Cult Beauty, £5.50
Best vitamin C serum: Medik8 C-Tetra Lipid Vitamin C Antioxidant Serum
This uses both vitamin E and vitamin C, although the latter is the star. It’s delivered in the form of tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate, which is able to penetrate deep into skin with minimal irritation.
The entire formula’s water-free making it 100% stable so the vitamin C content won’t degrade over time. It also features added nourishing oils, like jojoba, for a comfortable texture and instant fatigue-fighting rejuvenation.
In short? It’s another expert favourite that won’t disappoint.
Shop Medik8 C-Tetra Lipid Vitamin C Antioxidant Serum at Cult Beauty, £35
Best antioxidant serum for oily skin: Paula’s Choice Resist Ultra-Light Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum
Paula’s Choice has the antioxidant skincare offering of dreams. No matter your skin type, bugbear or preferred product texture, you’re guaranteed to find something for you.
But this one’s a particular game-changer in our book. If you’re cautious of adding another layer to your skincare routine, or if you’re oily, it’ll answer all your prayers.
The consistency’s barely-there but it comes with a kick of hyaluronic acid so you’ll still feel satisfyingly hydrated.
Its antioxidant prowess comes from a cocktail of resveratrol, vitamin C, vitamin E and other lesser-known wonders like quercetin and ubiquinone (also known as coenzyme Q10).
It also reduces brown spots from breakouts and makes pores less visible.
Shop Paula’s Choice Resist Ultra-Light Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum at Paula’s Choice, £35
Best antioxidant facial oil: Drunk Elephant Virgin Marula Luxury Facial Oil
Nature’s menu of antioxidants is pretty endless so you’re limiting yourself if you stick to the most well-known. One worth getting in on? Marula oil (from the marula fruit) that boasts four times the vitamin C of an orange.
It’s also rich in vitamin E (and nourishing omegas 6 and 9) so you’re getting a double dose of antioxidant benefits.
This plush face oil contains nothing but marula oil and it’s the way it’s processed that makes it so smart. The oil, officially named sclerocarya birrea seed oil, is cold-pressed which means it’s extracted without heat to retain as much of the goodness as possible.
Once applied, you’ll find it penetrates quickly without an uncomfortable residue while plumping and nourishing for an undeniably youthful glow.
Shop Drunk Elephant Virgin Marula Luxury Facial Oil at Cult Beauty, £61
Best antioxidant eye cream: La Roche-Posay Redermic [R] Retinol Eye Cream
Some antioxidant products can be too strong for the delicate under-eye area but this is specially formulated to target the zone without causing dryness or irritation.
While it’s less potent than all-over retinol face serums, there’s no shortage of results. It contains 0.1% retinol and a 0.1% retinol booster to visibly diminish fine lines and crows feet while caffeine gets to work on dark circles and puffiness.
Make a beeline for it if you like your eye creams more results-driven than pampering.
Shop La Roche-Posay Redermic [R] Retinol Eye Cream at lookfantastic, £27
Best antioxidant sunscreen for under make-up: Heliocare 360 Gel Oil-Free Dry Touch SPF 50
Dermatologists often recommend using a sunscreen spiked with antioxidants as an easy way to up your skin’s dose. This one gets Dr. Mahto’s vote. It’s oil-free so there’s no greasy feeling and it sits perfectly under make-up, just like a primer, without causing things to slide come lunchtime.
And that all-important free radical defence? It comes from ‘FernBlock’ – a unique kind of antioxidant technology using a special fern plant from Central America.
Shop Heliocare 360 Gel Oil-Free Dry Touch SPF 50 at Face the Future, £24.99
Best all-day sunscreen with antioxidants: Ultrasun Face Anti-Age and Anti-Pigmentation SPF 50
Ultrasun UK’s MD Abi Cleeve is big on the brand incorporating antioxidants into its suncare products as an extra weapon against sun damage. There’s a formula to suit all in the collection but we rate this gem that specialised in blitzing pigmentation.
You’ll score immediate all-day, water-resistant protection at a high SPF 50 level while over time, dark spots will get diminished.
Not just suitable for summer and holidays, it works a treat in place of your usual day cream for an all-year-round shield.
Shop Ultrasun Face Anti-Age and Anti-Pigmentation SPF 50 at Space NK, £32
Best antioxidant face mist: Dermalogica Antioxidant Hydramist
If adding an antioxidant serum into your routine still seems like too much faff (or you hate the feel of multiple layers), plump for this speedy antioxidant spritz. It can be used as a toner spray after cleansing or veil it over make-up for a refresher and extra shield throughout the day.
It uses white tea, licorice, vitamin E and a vitamin C complex to fight those pesky free radicals from all angles. It’s also swirled with hyaluronic acid, lending a radiance-boosting drink to a dehydrated mid-afternoon complexion.
Shop Dermalogica Antioxidant Hydramist at lookfantastic, £40
Best organic antioxidant oil: Trilogy Rosehip Oil Antioxidant+ Facial Oil
Green goddesses will adore this indulgent nutrient-jammed face oil that’s certified organic and 100% natural. But anyone with a dry, parched complexion can reap its benefits.
It’s brimming with antioxidants from rosehip oil, lycopene (from tomato) and photosterol (from acai berry) along with nourishing essential fatty acids that instantly renew and soothe.
Just a few drops is all it takes to smooth away flaky bits and leave skin looking more vibrant and rested. We’re not surprised supermodels and facialists are forever rating it.
Shop Trilogy Rosehip Oil Antioxidant+ Facial Oil at lookfantastic, £31.50
Best antioxidant face mask: Fresh Black Tea Instant Perfecting Mask
If you enjoy a weekly face mask session, you need to try this. It’s formulated with a potent black tea complex, including kombucha, black tea extract and blackberry leaf extract, to protect skin against damaging free radicals. It also contains hyaluronic acid to hydrate and improves skin elasticity.
Shop Fresh Black Tea Instant Perfecting Mask at Cult Beauty, £30
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