Antioxidants And Free Radicals

If you’ve researched skin care products, you may have come across terms like “antioxidants” and “free radicals.” But what do these terms mean?

The purpose of antioxidants in skin care products is to neutralize free radicals that could otherwise damage the skin and lead to premature aging. Free radicals are unstable compounds that damage human cells and DNA. Eating antioxidant-rich foods is important for overall health. When applied to the skin, however, antioxidants may penetrate the cells, helping to keep them strong and healthy and possibly reversing the signs of aging.

Antioxidant Skin Care Ingredients

While the list of ingredients used in antioxidant skin care is quite extensive, here are some of the more common ingredients:

  • Alpha-lipoic acid is a newer, more potent antioxidant. According to the Cleveland Clinic (2010), this antioxidant reduces fine facial lines, increases levels of other antioxidants, and makes the skin “glow.”
  • Green tea may slow down signs of sun damage.
  • Kinetin (N6-furfuryladenine) may reduce wrinkles and make skin tone more consistent.
  • Niacinamide (vitamin B3) may reverse signs of aging due to sun damage.
  • Vitamin A, in the form of retinoids, is used to treat sun-damaged skin. In addition to preventing collagen breakdown due to UV radiation, retinoids can reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and treat acne.
  • Vitamin C may stimulate the production of collagen, minimizing fine lines, scarring and wrinkling. L-ascorbic acid is the only form of vitamin C that’s useful in skin care products, as reported by the Cleveland Clinic (2010).
  • Vitamin E may have some anti-aging skin benefits, although more research is necessary to discover its overall role in skin health.
  • Ubiquinone, also known as coenzyme Q10 (CoQ-10), is commonly found in over-the-counter antioxidant skin care products and may help reduce wrinkles and protect against UVA radiation.

You might also find these antioxidants in your skin care products:

  • Copper peptide
  • Genistein
  • Grape seed
  • Lycopene
  • Pomegranate
  • Pycnogenol
  • Resveratrol
  • Silymarin.

Do Antioxidants Work?

Although some research on antioxidants and free radicals supports antioxidant skin care, other research is inconclusive. Antioxidants are unstable, and the antioxidants in over-the-counter products may be inactive by the time you apply them to your skin. Topical antioxidants also need to be properly absorbed into the skin in order to work.

Cosmeceuticals–including those that contain antioxidants–aren’t regulated by the FDA and don’t have to undergo rigorous scientific testing. This can make it difficult to evaluate a specific product’s claims. Before making a purchase, you might want to work with a dermatologist to determine the best types of products for your skin.


Cleveland Clinic. (2010). Understanding the ingredients in skin care products. Retrieved December 13, 2010, from

Harvard Health Publications. (2007). Tips for picking the right skin care products. Retrieved December 13, 2010, from

Schwartz, R. & Centurion, S. (2010). Cosmeceuticals. Retrieved December 13, 2010, from

Allemann, I. & Baumann, L. (n.d.). Antioxidants used in skin care formulations. Retrieved December 13, 2010, from