The Best Antioxidants for Your Skin

You already know that your skin — like the rest of your body — benefits from the work of antioxidants: They help fight free radicals, unstable compounds that attack cells and cause wrinkles, dull skin, and even skin cancer. But with so many on the market, how do you know which antioxidants work the hardest to help your skin stay smooth and young? The good news is, there's no reason to limit yourself to just one.

"Most antioxidants have a primary mechanism of action but may have multiple functions," says Jennifer Linder, MD, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the University of California at San Francisco. "Because of these varying functions, it’s good to have a combination of antioxidants in your regimen." Read on to find out which antioxidants you can’t go wrong with.

Green tea

What it is: Green tea extracts are derived from the Camellia sinensis plant; you may also want to drink tea brewed from the plant for internal benefits. Green tea contains a number of powerful polyphenols, one of which — epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) — it contains in large quantities.

How it works: Research has shown that when EGCG is applied before or immediately after UV exposure, it helps correct cellular changes caused by damaging UV rays. “It can also quench hydrogen peroxide radicals and cause carcinogenic skin cells to degrade,” says Dr. Linder.

Shopping tip: Make sure there’s enough green tea extract in the product you choose; if there's too little, it might not be effective. “Creams containing an adequate amount of green tea will look brown,” says Leslie Baumann, MD, a dermatologist in Miami and the author of Skin Type Solutions.


What it is: Idebenone (pronounced E-d-buh-known) is a more stable relative of the antioxidant coenzyme Q10.

How it works: Idebenone penetrates better than coenzyme Q10 and offers more protection from the oxidation caused by free radicals. It also protects skin cells from the damaging effects of UVB rays.

Try it first: Be sure to do a patch test before committing to regular use of a product containing idebenone; about 1 out of 10 people has an allergic reaction to the antioxidant, says Deirdre Hooper, MD, an assistant clinical professor at Louisiana State University and a dermatologist in New Orleans.


What it is: This oldie-but-goodie antioxidant is a polyphenolic compound found in grapes, berries, cocoa, and even peanuts.

How it works: Studies show that resveratrol confers great benefits when applied topically. “When you apply resveratrol before sun exposure, it reduces the production of damaging free radicals and other sun-related skin damage,” says Linder. It also helps retard the development and growth of skin cancer tumors.

Vitamin C

What it is: This familiar powerhouse vitamin is an essential antioxidant for the skin, meaning that it is critical but is not produced by the human body. “For this reason, it is beneficial to add vitamin C to your daily regimen,” Linder says. It comes in a number of forms, but the purest version — the version worth your hard-earned money — is ascorbic acid.

How it works: Of all the antioxidants, vitamin C is backed by the most research demonstrating its benefits for the skin. “This powerful antioxidant has proven anti-inflammatory, collagen-building, and sun-protection benefits,” Linder says.

Shopping tip: As mentioned, look for ascorbic acid on the ingredients label. It’s best to look for a product packaged in a dark, small-mouthed tube that blocks air entry, because vitamin C is sensitive to light and air.

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