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Are there any downsides to using antioxidants?
All the experts SELF spoke to agree that there really aren’t that many. Some antioxidants may be a little more likely to cause irritation (itching, burning, redness in certain skin tones) than others. However, as a class, they’re certainly not known for the uncomfortable side effects like flaking and dryness, as is the case with powerful ingredients like retinol and glycolic acid, Dr. Skotnicki points out.
The biggest potential pitfall is that an antioxidant skincare product may not be as effective as it claims. It’s not always easy to find one that works, stays stable (meaning the antioxidants stay active and effective), and can actually penetrate deep enough to do its job, he notes. She. The overall formulation of the product, as well as the type and concentration of antioxidants, will dictate its effectiveness, adds Dr. Gmyrek.2 At this point…
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The Best Antioxidants to Add to Your Skincare Routine
Generally speaking, any antioxidant is better than no antioxidant, but there are products worth researching, as well as others that may work better for certain skin types.
It was a universally recommended first choice among all the experts consulted by SELF. Dr. Skotnicki notes that there is plenty of clinical data to support its effectiveness, which is not the case for many other antioxidants on the market. What makes vitamin C so unique? In addition to fighting free radical damage, it also treats hyperpigmentation and helps with collagen production (which means it can smooth out fine lines and wrinkles), she says.3
A few caveats: The majority of clinical studies on topical vitamin C are based on l-ascorbic acid, the most potent and purest version, which can be a bit irritating, especially for more sensitive skin. emphasizes Dr. Skotnicki. L-ascorbic acid is also water-soluble, meaning it dissolves in water; this is problematic since skin cells are hydrophobic (they repel water), adds Dr. Russak. « As such, it needs to be formulated in a heavier base, which acne-prone skin may not like, » she says.
Although l-ascorbic acid is considered the gold standard, there are other forms of vitamin C worth considering. Dr. Gmyrek and Dr. Russak call it textrahexyldecyl ascorbate (THD) because it’s both very stable and tends to be better tolerated in people with sensitive skin. Other milder forms include magnesium ascorbyl phosphate and ascorbyl palmitate; it may be worth looking into one of these alternative versions if your skin is easily irritated. (Here are more tips on exactly how to use vitamin C in your skincare routine.)
You can also consider niacinamide, or vitamin B3, if you’re concerned about irritation. « While not as strong as vitamin C, it is very well tolerated and anti-inflammatory, so it’s great if you have sensitive skin or even rosacea or eczema, » says Dr. Russak. On top of that, it can help improve skin barrier function, regulate sebum production, and reduce redness and hyperpigmentation, says Dr. Gmyrek.3 Niacinamide is available over-the-counter and by prescription, and we’ve got loads of tips on how to use it and what to look for. (FYI, it has generally been studied at concentrations of 2% to 10%; 5% is a good compromise to look for, as SELF has already pointed out. If the percentage is not stated, niacinamide should be one of the first ingredients on the label.)
« Vitamin E, or tocopherol, is known for its moisturizing properties and can be beneficial for dry or sensitive skin, as it is also very soothing, » says Dr. Gmyrek. This is because not only does it aid in the wound healing process and repair damage, but it can also strengthen the skin’s natural moisture barrier and reduce inflammation, she adds.4 Like ferulic acid, the next top antioxidant on our list, you probably won’t see vitamin E as a standalone skincare hero. On the contrary, it is often combined with vitamin C (the two work synergistically and vitamin E can actually help combat the irritating effects of l-ascorbic acid), as well as other antioxidants, because it works well with most, according to the derms we talked about. For.
As mentioned above, you’ll typically see ferulic acid combined with vitamin C (and/or vitamin E) in serums and other skincare products. That’s because it can help create a more acidic environment that stabilizes vitamin C, ensuring it stays potent and active longer, Dr. Skotnicki says. It works in harmony with other antioxidants, including vitamin E, adds Dr. Gmyrek, though it’s still powerful on its own.4 FYI: Look for « ferulic acid » listed on the ingredient label.
This is an umbrella term for a variety of plant-based antioxidants. « It makes sense that plants are high in antioxidants, considering they’ve had to protect themselves from the sun for billions of years, » says Dr. Skotnicki. Polyphenols are generally good for all skin types, and you’ll likely find them in organic products, or those that advertise themselves as « natural, » Dr. Russak notes. Common extracts worth looking for include: green and white tea extract (you’ll usually see the first listed as EGCG on ingredient labels), lycopene (found in red and pink fruits such as watermelon), pomegranate extract and sea buckthorn.