Common Antioxidants in Skincare Products

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

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

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

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

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.

Final considerations

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?

Source: Sandra Mora
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  1. Celeste says

    this is very useful!!
    at the moment, I’m using a witch hazel daycream with vitamin a, c, and e!

    thanks for posting 😀

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Celeste, I’m glad you find it useful. The cream you’re using contains some great antioxidants. :)

  2. says

    I never knew I used so many products with antioxidants until I read this. My serum and moisturizer contain Vitamins A, C and E, and green tea extract. Some of my face makeup has antioxidants too. So, why don’t look younger? LOL!
    Tammy´s last blog post ..Mario Badescu Cellufirm DropsMy Profile

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Tammy, lol. It’s great that you use so many products with antioxidants. They may seem like they aren’t doing much now, but you’ll see the difference when you’re older and you won’t look your real age. 😉

  3. Alejandra says

    Speaking about antioxidants, im willing to buy a vitamin C serum cause is not expensive as many others with this active ingredient and claims to have 10%, its Orangedaily 10% vitamin C serum. It comes in an opaque and airtight package and has no water but since ascorbic acid is not too stable I have some doubts….
    Here are the ingredients:
    Isododecane, Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), Jojoba (Buxus Chinensis) Oil, Ethylene Mixed Copolymer, C12 15 Alkyl Benzoate, Cetearyl Alcohol, Tocopheryl Acetate (Vitamin E), Retinyl Acetate (Vitamin A), Peueraria Thunberigiana Extract, Alfalfa (Medicago Sativa) Extract, Licorice (Glycyrrhiza Glabra) Extract, Sarsaparilla (Smilax Aristolochiaefolia) Extract, Tansy (Tanacetum Vulgare) Extract, Citric Acid, Glyceryl Oleate, BHA, BHT, Propyl Gallate, Propylene Glycol, Soybean (Glycine Soja) Oil, Corn (Zea Mays) Oil

    What do you think?? would it work?

    Thanks a lot, i really appreciate that theres (few) blogs like yours who has a serious approach to beauty.

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Alejandra, thank you, I’m glad that you enjoy my blog, I hope to see you around often.

      As for the serum, I think it has a good formula and I like that it contains a few antioxidants. You are right when you say that Ascorbic Acid is not very stable but if it is in an airtight and opaque packaging, that shouldn’t be much of a problem. What worries me most about Ascorbic Acid is that its acid part can cause irritations, although the other antioxidants in the formula should soothe it. It’s not a bad product at all and it should work well (of course antioxidants prevent premature aging so you would see the results overtime, not straight away) but personally, I prefer products with more stable, less irritating forms of Vitamin C as I think they work better. Hope this helps.

  4. Alejandra says

    Thanks a lot, the thing is I need a product with at least 5% of vitamin c and most are over 50 dollars, besides I have to pay for shipping costs (im in South América, here we cant buy a loot of products, it really sucks). Theres a good Paula Begoun product for 25 bucks, ill try to buy it too.
    Ill definitely be around often!!.

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Alejandra, you’re welcome. I live in Italy and a lot of products aren’t available here either unless you buy them online and the shipping charges can be quite high so I know how frustrating it can be without breaking the bank. *sighs* I haven’t had the chance to try Paula Begoun products but they are well-formulated and I think her Vitamin C product would work very well. :)

      I’m glad to hear that. 😉

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