Medically reviewed by Minimalist Health Specialist -  Written by Aheli Sen (Fashion & Beauty Expert)  on 19th Dec 2020

Should You Use Topical Antioxidants For The Skin?

Should You Use Topical Antioxidants For The Skin?

What do we understand when we say the word antioxidant?

Antioxidants can help get rid of all the bad toxins in the body and cleanse the body. But what is the more scientific, more profound understanding of the same? And how does it affect the skin we have? We shall learn all about it in this article. But first, what is the definition of antioxidants?

Well, the easiest definition would be that antioxidants are molecules that help the body fight off free radicals present in it. It prevents damage that can fall to cells from free radicals. 

What are free radicals? 

When heightened in the body, they are toxins, resulting in the same damage or harm. They are unstable molecules that can bring harm to the body. Toxins in the body can trigger the body to submit to multiple diseases like heart attacks, cancer, and diabetes.

Usually, the body produces antioxidants (also known as endogenous antioxidants) to fight off such radicals. The same from multiple outer sources (also known as exogenous antioxidants) like fruits, veggies, etc., is also quite beneficial. The most commonly known antioxidants are Vitamin C and E. Phytonutrients are the lesser-known antioxidants that come from plants. 

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So how do free radicals form in the body?

Well, it is a continuous process in the body. Free radicals are extremely useful for the body as our immune system uses these free radicals to fight off infections and disease. However, an excess of anything is not great. Too much production of the same and not being cleared off would result in the body's DNA being affected adversely.  

A list of things that we do or experience that increases the buildup of free radicals are as follows: 

  • Consumption of a lot of medicines regularly.
  • Consumption of alcohol daily or in too many volumes. 
  • Polluted air that we breathe in. 
  • Being a chain smoker or an active, passive smoker. 
  • Excess or deficiency of oxygen in the body. 
  • Excessive sun radiation exposure. 
  • Having a high blood sugar level. 
  • Having infection. 
  • Having antioxidants present in the body over toxins. 
  • A body deficiency of antioxidants.
  • Exercising more than required also leads to an excess of toxins in the body. 
  • Exposure to certain formats of chemicals (like in chemotherapy) also leads to the production of toxins in excess. 
  • Injuries and traumas. 
  • Consumption of foods that have preservatives and sugar in excess. 

Let us now figure the different antioxidants that are available in the market to be applied to the skin topically and how we derive benefits from each: 

1.Vitamin C:

It is one of the most widely used ingredients for skin brightening and is very well known as an antioxidant. It is consumed both orally and topically to benefit from the same. It is an ingredient that has been studied thoroughly over such properties. It can also be listed as "L-ascorbic acid" or "Ester-C" in products.

It helps skin stimulate collagen production and helps reduce or fade dark spots from the sun or aging. It is also an extremely unstable ingredient that, when put in skincare, has to be packaged in the best way possible that includes dark-tinted glass packaging, which is completely air-locked.

In a normal glass packaging sans airlock or tint, the ingredient becomes unstable when sunlight hits it, and it turns milky from absorption of carbon dioxide when it comes in contact with the air frequently. This would mean that it would not work on the skin, and there'd be no benefits to reap.  

2.Vitamin E:

It is an extremely potent antioxidant. It breaks the chain of reactive oxygen molecules when the fat in our body goes under oxidation and stops the propagation of free radicals. It helps the skin to have an increased orderly packaging of the membrane lipid packaging.

A tighter packaging on the cell membrane means better stability of the cell. It helps repair the membrane through the prevention of oxidized phospholipids from the formation.

It enables the skin from getting damaged by the UV rays of the sun. Vitamin E is best used at night before bed as it is a thick element that needs time to absorb into the skin. 

3. Ferulic Acid:

An antioxidant that helps boost the effects of other antioxidant agents? Saying yes to that. Ferulic Acid does just that. It makes vitamins C and E function the best when used in combination with this Acid. It has also been found to protect the skin against sun damage. It is an extremely important ingredient that fights the skin's aging process, like fine lines and wrinkles. It is best used in the morning with serums and moisturizers and with sunscreen on top. However, it should not be used with chemical exfoliants like AHA to alter the pH, making the antioxidant change effective. 


A type of Vitamin A that is considered one of the most powerful antioxidants that work against radicals from the environment and help the skin prevent aging prematurely. It is thus a very famous anti-aging ingredient. It is found in over the counter drugs or ones that are prescribed by the doctors like tretinoin. This vitamin is particularly powerful due to its minimal molecular structure. This small structure allows retinol to penetrate deeper layers of the skin to stimulate the production of collagen. It thus helps accelerate the renewal of cells that smoothes out fine lines and wrinkles.

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5. Coenzyme Q10:

It provides the skin with energy critical to repair and regenerate. It, too, is an extremely potent antioxidant that helps the skin in sun defense. This is the first and one of the most important ingredients that can prevent skin from aging prematurely. It enables the skin to produce more collagen that increases the cell turnover ratio and increases its elasticity.

It also helps prevent your skin from developing dark spots and fades away if already present on the skin. It stops the production of tyrosinase, which is the primary catalyst in the production of melanin. It is also one of the antioxidants that the human body produces naturally, but with time diminishes. 

6. Botanical Extracts (Phytoextracts):

Green tea, the most famous phytoextract out there, is known for its antioxidant properties. Just as it is effective when consumed orally, it works wonders on the skin when applied topically. Along similar lines comes another natural measure: botanical fruits and vegetables; teas like white tea, coffee, rosemary, and calendula. These ingredients often find themselves in skincare that imparts antioxidant properties. Phytoextracts contain three types of bioactive compounds that are polyphenols, carotenoids, and flavonoids. All of the mentioned compounds exhibit both antioxidant and UV ray protection properties. 

7. Niacinamide:

It is a type of Vitamin B3 that is mostly sourced from meat. Topical application of the same help reduces dark spots, fine lines, wrinkles, inflammation, and dry and dull skin. It also helps improve the texture of the skin. 

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8. Resveratrol:

It easily penetrates the skin's barrier, thus actively slowing down the aging process. It helps make skin inflammation go away, making skin look and feel healthy and free from acne. It also helps the skin increase its collagen production. It is found and sourced from grapes, berries, red wine, tea, etc. 

9. Curcumin:

Turmeric. The ultimate antioxidant. Curcumin is sourced from turmeric. It is a new entry in the world of skincare. It is a polyphenol that is believed to overcome inflammation and helps the skin achieve ultimate brightness.

The Final Word

Long term usage of antioxidants is key to the skin texture, feel, and look that you have set your goal. The goal should also be realistic. It takes time for antioxidants when applied topically or consumed orally to show their prowess.

Retinols, Vitamin C, Vitamin E are the most widely used antioxidants found in over-the-counter drugs for topical application. Also, remember, sunscreen is a must. Although many of the ingredients mentioned above have suncare properties, these are not as effective as a sunscreen.