Antioxidants: how to use them and the best antioxidant products for your glowiest skin ever

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Amber Ascroft
Antioxidants in skincare: how they work and the best antioxidant products

Ever wondered what antioxidants really are? And why they’re dermatologists’ top tip for better skin? Our easy expert guide explains all.

Antioxidants. It’s a word you’ve likely seen scrawled across countless lotions and potions but do you know what it means? Our guess is… probably not.

“Antioxidants have been the new big thing for a few years now. 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,” explains Dr. Anjali Mahto, London-based dermatologist at Skin55 and author of The Skincare Bible: Your No-Nonsense Guide to Great Skin.

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 looking younger for longer.

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, wrinkles and dark spots.

Free radicals’ worst enemy? Antioxidants – that 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. 

Vitamin C

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%.

Vitamin E

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.


“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.

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.

Other antioxidant wonder ingredients

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.

There’s just one more 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 slap one on today and your skin will thank you – not just tomorrow – but ten years down the line, too… 

  • Best all-rounder antioxidant serum

    SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic 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.


  • Best antioxidant serum for sensitive skin

    Avene A-Oxitive Antioxidant Defense Serum

    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.


  • Best bargain 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. No wonder it was voted Victoria Health’s Best-selling Beauty Product of the Year award for 2018.


  • Best resveratrol antioxidant serum

    Deciem The Ordinary Resveratrol 3% and Ferulic Acid 3% 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.


  • 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 that’s 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.


  • Best antioxidant serum for oily skin

    Paula's Choice Resist Ultra Light Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum

    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.


  • 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. 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.


  • 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.


  • Best antioxidant sunscreen for under make-up

    Heliocare 360 Gel Oil-Free Dry Touch Antioxidant SPF 50 Face Sunscreen

    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.


  • Best all-day sunscreen with antioxidants

    Ultrasun Face Anti-Ageing Anti-Pigmentation SPF 50 Sunscreen

    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. Look out for the tinted version launching this spring.


  • Best antioxidant face mist

    Dermalogica Antioxidant Hydramist Spray

    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.


  • Best organic antioxidant oil

    Trilogy Rosehip Oil Antioxidant + Face 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.


Main image: Ana Francisconi

Other images: Courtesy of brands


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