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What Are Antioxidants In Skincare?

Blueberries, pomegranate seeds and green tea: many of us make an effort to include antioxidants in our diets, but over the last couple of years they’ve entered the skincare conversation too. 

The good news is that these buzzy ingredients are worth the hype – but what do they do, and how do they actually work? Our expert Skin + Me Dermatology Team explains all. 

How antioxidants work 

Before we talk about antioxidants, we need to take a step back and talk about free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules found in the atmosphere, and in order to stabilise themselves they take electrons from other places – like the molecules found in your skin. This damages the skin in a process known as oxidative stress. 

“The process of oxidative stress deprives your skin of its natural antioxidants (vitamins C and A) which means free radicals can damage your skin cells resulting in destruction of your collagen and elastin,” explains Dr Jason Thomson, Head of Medical at Skin + Me. “This also results in skin losing its moisture levels, meaning it’s more prone to dryness.” 

Free radicals are a damaging but inescapable part of daily life. They can come from air pollution, cigarette smoke and even ultraviolet rays – in fact, research shows that 80% of oxidative stress comes from UV rays. The good news is that antioxidants, when used alongside a good sunscreen, are scientifically proven to counter the effects of free radicals, protecting the skin and safeguarding against future damage.

How to use antioxidants in skincare

You can find antioxidants in many different skincare products, including serums, moisturisers and even sunscreen. These products soak into your skin, so they’re the most efficient way to get all the positive benefits from the antioxidants. 

Antioxidants can also be formulated into products like face masks and cleansers, which don’t penetrate as deeply. Although they won’t be as efficacious in combating damage caused by free radicals, they can be a nice addition to your routine.


Niacinamide is a popular multitasker – not only do we include it in many Skin + Me Daily Dosers, it’s also a hero ingredient in our Daily Defence SPF50 Oil-free Sunscreen

“Niacinamide’s antioxidant properties help to fight harmful compounds caused by sun damage,” explains Dr Ben Esdaile, Consultant Dermatologist at Skin + Me. It also helps to balance oil levels, so it’s a good pick for those with oily or combination skin.

Azelaic acid

Azelaic acid is another favourite here at Skin + Me – it’s often formulated into our Daily Dosers, and it’s the hero ingredient in our Brighten + Boost Calming Azelaic Acid Morning Treatment Serum

“It’s an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, so it can soothe the skin and protect the skin, which is why it’s beneficial for rosacea and other inflammatory skin conditions,” says Dr Jason.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is one of the most well-known antioxidants in the skincare sphere. “It’s an antioxidant that helps fight free radicals attacking our skin, and it is particularly helpful in fighting the damage from pollution,” says Dr Jason. 

There are two vitamin C serums in the Brighten + Boost line-up, Firming and Regulating – both use an encapsulated formulation to keep the antioxidant stable and effective over time.


Ectoin is an up-and-coming skincare star, which performs well under daily pressure. We’ve included it in all three of our Brighten + Boost Serums, along with carnosine and vitamin E

“Our formulations also include a triple antioxidant complex of alpha-tocopherol, the most biological active form of Vitamin E, along with carnosine, and ectoin,” says Dr Jason. “Each of these are known for their potent antioxidant properties which provide additional stability to the overall formulation, as well as significant skin protection against daily environmental stressors.” 

Ferulic acid

Ferulic acid is growing in popularity, and this antioxidant plays well with other ingredients like vitamin C. Derived from the cell walls of plants, it aids with evening skin tone and protects the skin from the environment.


Whether you’re using retinol, retinal or prescription-grade tretinoin, did you know that you’re already using antioxidants in your skincare? That’s right – the retinoid family is actually a family of antioxidants. 

Not only do retinoids protect against future damage, but they can also improve the appearance of existing damage by speeding up skin cell turnover – just make sure that you also wear plenty of sunscreen to protect your new delicate skin cells.

Hyaluronic acid 

You might associate hyaluronic acid with hydration, but this popular ingredient also has antioxidant properties. You’ll find it in both versions of our Soothe + Smooth Moisturisers, designed by dermatologists to nourish your skin barrier and reduce irritation.

Final thoughts

If you want to upgrade your skincare routine, then antioxidants are the way to do it. These protective molecules not only work hard to shield your skin from everyday stressors, but can also help target your specific skin concerns. From fine lines to dark spots, skin texture to visible pores, there’s an antioxidant (or two!) out there for you.

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