Last year, we talked about what antioxidants are and how the work: sun exposure, smoking, pollution and metabolism are just a few things that generate free radicals (the main cause of premature aging) and antioxidants fight them, thus helping us stay healthy and younger for longer. But now that we know how they work, I thought it would be helpful to compile a list (which is by no means comprehensive) of the most common antioxidants found in skincare products. Keep in mind that there really isn’t one antioxidant that’s better than the others but lots of options which are all very helpful in fighting premature aging and it’s thus a good idea to incorporate a few of them in your skincare routine. Let’s see what these antioxidants are then:
Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA)
Alpha Lipoic Acid is an enzyme, soluble both in water and fat, that easily penetrates the skin. It has powerful antioxidants properties as well as the ability to regenerate Vitamins C and E, thus enhancing their efficiency. However, while effective when taken orally, there is no proof yet that it provides the same benefits when applied topically. In addition, ALA is more vulnerable than most antioxidants to degradation when exposed to sunlight and high concentrations (about 5% or more) can cause a negative reaction (burning and stinging).
Coenzyme Q10 (aka Ubiquinone)
Coenzyme Q10 is a fat-soluble compound that is already presents in all human cells but it is depleted by sun exposure. Ubiquinone helps fight free radicals, stimulates the production of collagen and reduces UV damage.
Glutathione is a protein made of Glycine, Glutamic Acid and Cystein that occurs naturally in animal and human tissue but it depletes with sun exposure. It helps fight free radical damage.
Grape Seed Extract
Grape Seed Extract contains anthocyanins,flavonoids proanthocyanidins and polyphenols, all compounds with strong antioxidant properties. They help fight free radicals, improve collagen synthesis and reduce the damaging effects of the sun rays (but it’s not a sunscreen and shouldn’t be used as such!).
Green Tea is rich in polyphenols (powerful antioxidants). It helps reduce the damage free radicals inflict to the DNA and helps protect skin from the harmful sun rays and its effects, including cancer. Another component of tea is epigallocatechin-3-gallate has been shown to reduce collagen breakdown.
Superoxide Dismutase (SOD)
Superoxide Dismutase is a powerful antioxidant that can destroy a type of free radical called Super Oxide. It can reduce UV damage as well as lessening redness from sunburn. Unfortunately, its molecules are big so it can’t penetrate skin well, making topical application not very effective.
Vitamin A and its derivatives (Retinoids) are the gold standard of antiaging ingredients. Some of the forms used in skincare products are Retinol, Retinyl Palmitate, Retinoic Acid (Tretinoin) and Retinylaldehyde. Vitamin A is the only ingredient that has been shown to actually reduce wrinkles (but it takes at least 3 months to see the first results). In addition, it improves the production of collagen and creates healthier skin cells. However Retinoids can cause redness, flaking and stinging in some people so it is recommended to start with products that contain small concentrations of these ingredients and use them every other day until your skin gets used to them.
Vitamin C (L-Ascorbic Acid) and its derivatives (such as Ascorbic Palmitate, Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate, Sodium ascorbyl Phosphate and Ascorbyl Glucoside to name a few) have strong antioxidant properties. Vitamin C increases the production of collagen, reduces inflammation, strengthens the skin’s natural barrier and offers some sun protection (again, it can’t replace sunscreen). However, it is very unstable and quickly oxidizes (ie degrades) when exposed to light and air.
Vitamin E is another vitamin available in several forms, the most used of which is Alpha-Tocopherol. Vitamin A helps reduce free radical formation and, applied before sun exposure, it helps prevent and lessen redness, sunburn and DNA damage caused by the UV rays. But that doesn’t mean you can skip the sunscreen! Use Vitamin E in conjunction with it and it will also help enhance the efficacy of the sunscreens active ingredients.
Antioxidants may be powerful allies in fighting premature aging but not all products that contain them are effective. First of all, they have to be present in the product in high concentrations so if you spot them towards the end of the ingredient list, they won’t do much. Packaging is also important. Some antioxidants are more stable than others but they all degrade (losing their efficacy overtime) when exposed to light and air so choose products that come in opaque tubes and bottles instead than jars. Also remember that, with the exception of Vitamin A, antioxidants can prevent new wrinkles from forming but can do nothing for the ones you already have. In any case, it takes months if not years to see some results. And while properly formulated and packaged skincare products with antioxidants work, antioxidants are more effective when taken orally through food.
Do you use skincare products with antioxidants?