Why you should add antioxidants to your skincare routine
by Deborah Duffey, Chief Product Development Officer and President Aug 13, 2021
Antioxidants is thrown around a lot when discussing skincare, and thrown onto labels without much explanation. It sounds like applying antioxidants to your skin is a good thing, but what they do once they’re on there is unclear. And whether they’re a necessity or just nice to have? That’s even blurrier.
While the science behind antioxidants and how they work is complex, with just a little knowledge you can optimize your routine so you’re using the antioxidants right for you. Because—and this may come as no surprise—yes, you should be adding antioxidants to your routine. Here’s why and how.
What are antioxidants?
Antioxidants are molecules, both naturally occurring and man-made, that protect cells all over the body from free radical damage. Antioxidants are mostly found in fruits and plants, and in some grains, nuts, and meats. When eaten they play a major role in keeping your body healthy, much like they do when applied topically to the skin. We’ll cover the benefits of using antioxidants in your products, but you should also know that ingesting fruits and vegetables—where most antioxidants are—can play a beneficial role in the health of your skin, too.
Antioxidants sometimes overlap with vitamins, but not all vitamins are antioxidants, and not all antioxidants are vitamins. Beta-carotene (which the body converts to vitamin A), vitamin C, and vitamin E are all both vitamins and antioxidants. Resveratrol, curcumin, and EGCG are all names of antioxidants that are found in foods—in grapes, turmeric, and green tea, respectively.
To understand why antioxidants are important, you should first learn about free radicals and what they do. Free radicals are unstable atoms that damage other cells. They exist all over our body, and form from sources like fried foods, air pollution, sun damage, and smoking. They can even come from internal sources, like inflammation or from exercise.
Too many free radicals cause oxidative stress. In the body, this manifests as disease and illness. But in the skin, this damage appears as premature aging or a lackluster appearance. Skin might look dull, and wrinkles, discoloration, uneven texture, and loss of firmness can all be caused or worsened by the damage caused by free radicals.
How do antioxidants repair skin?
Antioxidants are the antidote to free radicals.
In the most simple terms, free radicals cause damage as noted in the section above. Antioxidants repair it. How they do so happens on the most microscopic of levels. Free radicals damage cells because they are missing an electron, and they are on the search to fill that void. Antioxidants neutralize the threat of free radicals by giving up one of their own electrons, thereby steadying the free radical.
Eating foods with antioxidants or, in this case, applying products with antioxidants to the skin can repair damage that has already occurred. And with continued use, you’ll prevent or slow the development of premature aging overtime.
How important is it to use antioxidants?
Because of how powerful antioxidants are, it’s extremely important to use the min your skincare routine. By implementing a product with antioxidants, you’ll be protecting your skin from future damage, as well as repairing what’s already occurred.
One reason antioxidants are so valuable in a skincare routine is because some studies have shown they actually protect the skin from the sun’s UV rays. No sunscreen protects skin from the sun completely, but the addition of antioxidants to your morning routine can provide an extra layer of security. To be clear, wearing sunscreen is still a must because antioxidants can’t protect skin on their own. But the combination of SPF plus antioxidants can provide protection beyond what SPF can give you alone.
What antioxidants are for me?
While antioxidants will work for most skin types (assuming you have no allergies or sensitivity to the product), you can improve your skincare routine by choosing ones that target your specific needs.
Vitamin C is a powerful all-around antioxidant to include in your routine, and using a high-quality formula will go far to brighten skin tone. It excels at increasing collagen production, and those who have hyperpigmentation or sun spots will notice a lightening of discoloration within just a few weeks. Its antioxidant properties aid in protecting skin from the sun, so use it in the morning under sunscreen. It’s most commonly listed in products as ascorbic acid, although other forms are used as well.
Beta-carotene, which converts to vitamin A on the skin, is an extremely effective anti-aging antioxidant. It penetrates deeply into skin and can smooth texture, tighten wrinkles, and firm skin. It increases cell turnover which is helpful for acne-prone skin. Retinoids are derivatives of vitamin A and they are available as both over-the-counter and prescription strength formulas. Because it can be irritating, in some cases it makes sense to start with gentler, over-the-counter products to see how skin reacts before jumping into a prescription product.
Vitamin E (look for tocopherol on the ingredient list) is a popular antioxidant that may help prevent sun damage and reduce damage that’s already occurred. It works especially well in combination with other antioxidants, namely vitamin C. Vitamin E can also help skin repair itself since it’s such an essential molecule.
Niacinamide, also known as vitamin B3, is safe for sensitive skin (even those with eczema or rosacea can use it) and it can be helpful when it comes to discoloration. It supports a healthy skin barrier, is anti-inflammatory, and protects skin from sun damage. All that, plus it works like other antioxidants to prevent premature aging.
Green tea is a good ingredient to look for, especially if you’re dealing with sensitive or red skin. EGCG, a polyphenol, is a compound in green tea that’s to thank for its major antioxidant properties. Not only does green tea have a calming effect (which is what makes it great for irritation and redness-prone skin), it can help protect the skin from environmental factors. It’s anti-inflammatory and can prevent collagen breakdown.
There are more antioxidants than listed here; however, this should give you a broad overview of the most popular types of antioxidants and help guide you while you choose the most appropriate type for your skin. There is also a category that encompasses a broad range of naturally occurring antioxidants, which is polyphenols.
Polyphenols include the EGCG in green tea; resveratrol, which is found in red grapes, blueberries, and cranberries (it’s the good-for-you component in red wine), and curcumcin from turmeric root. The list goes on—there’s about 4,000 of them.
Like the other antioxidants mentioned, polyphenols all play a role in protecting skin from sun damage and environmental factors, along with repairing damage that’s already been done. Don’t get too caught up in choosing between polyphenols. Instead, you can look for products that have been designed with your specific skin type in mind.
How do I use antioxidants in my skincare?
Antioxidants can be used in products including serums, moisturizers, masks, and oils. They can be used in cleansers, too, although they’ll be most effective in those products that stay on skin for longer.
Because they are safe and gentle in most formulations, they can be used in each and every step of your skincare routine. They play well with each other and other ingredients, so you can combine several antioxidants in one skincare routine. In fact, in many cases it’s actually preferred to mix antioxidants—like the aforementioned vitamin C and E—to get better results from each. This doesn’t mean all products should be used together though. For example, some vitamin C products can be too powerful to mix with other vitamin C’s or to use too often. It depends on your sensitivity to the products and what your skin can handle.
The advice above doesn’t apply to vitamin A in the form of a strong retinoid, either. Retinoids are powerful ingredients which come with some precautions, including avoiding too much sun. Vitamin A products can usually be used in the same routine as other antioxidants, however, and depending on your skin it might even be preferred to use vitamin C in the morning with a vitamin A product in the evening.
One important factor to keep in mind is the quality of your antioxidants. In order to get the most out of your products, antioxidants need to penetrate skin and get to work in the deepest layers. Nanotech skincare (like we have at Kara Vita!) can deliver important skincare ingredients further into skin, which can make a big difference when you want to target loss of firmness or wrinkles.
A healthy diet might not sound like your typical skincare, but eating a wide range of fruits and vegetables can go a long way to improving your skin—no extra products needed. The antioxidants in these can help heal inflammation from the inside out and make improvements in the way your skin looks.
By using products with antioxidants (and rounding it out with a healthy diet), you’ll start to notice changes in your skin that will continue to improve over time—dark spots start to clear up, fine lines smooth, and skin starts to look brighter. Choose quality products for the best results!