If you're a skin care enthusiast, you're likely familiar with the benefits of topical antioxidants. But what about antioxidant supplements, which are designed to be taken orally? If you're looking for more ways to support your skin from the inside out, the powerful supplements might be exactly what you need.*
What is an antioxidant supplement?
Need a quick refresher? Free radicals are unstable molecules. The body naturally produces free radicals during normal metabolism, exercise, and immune responses, though it can also regulate them by making its own supply of antioxidants (assuming essential nutrient building blocks and cofactors are present).
So what does this mean for your skin? "Free radicals and oxidative stress lead to changes in the cell that are recognized as signs of aging: decreased collagen and elastin, increased pore size, increased textural changes, and changes in pigmentation," says Morgan Rabach, M.D., board-certified dermatologist and co-founder of LM Medical NYC. And according to Michele Farber, M.D., board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group, it can lead to reduced skin barrier function, too.
Well, antioxidants have the ability to actively buffer against and combat this process.* One way in which they do this is by donating an electron without becoming a free radical in the process. Or they neutralize them by breaking them down. And by doing this, they can delay and ease many of the skin care concerns we mentioned above.
At this point I assume it's becoming clear why experts tell you to load up on antioxidant inputs, both internally and externally. Fortunately, you can bolster your body's internal antioxidant defenses via food and targeted supplements.*
Getting your fill of antioxidants internally starts with a balanced, nutrient-rich, and plant-centric diet. But the latter (supplements) are more highly concentrated, as larger doses of antioxidants and extracts are able to be delivered in products like capsules, powders, gummies, or liquids.
Needless to say, if you're looking to fine-tune your routine in the name of skin care, thoughtfully formulated antioxidant supplements with ingredients rooted in science will fit the bill.*
Do they really work?
According to research, antioxidant supplements can help improve multiple aspects of skin health1, including hydration, texture, tone, elasticity, and thickness.* Studies have also shown that such supplements can efficiently provide antioxidant actions1 in the skin, helping neutralize oxidative processes.*
They also play a vital role in photoprotection.* One scientific review determined that antioxidant supplements can help the skin2 deal with oxidative stress, including the changes triggered by ultraviolet (UV) radiation.* As UV rays are a primary cause of the common signs of aging, this aspect of antioxidant support is very important: It may translate to enhanced firmness and suppleness, as well as decreased dark spots.*
Of course, research has also examined the antioxidant properties of individual substances and how they affect the skin.
For example, the antioxidant astaxanthin has been found to support skin health by directly acting on the oxidative process3.* In one clinical study, a combination of oral astaxanthin and collagen improved skin elasticity and barrier integrity, while numerous clinicals demonstrate the ability of daily oral astaxanthin supplements to improve skin hydration and wrinkles4.* (Interested in targeting wrinkles specifically? Check out our favorite anti-aging supplements.)
But we get to that in more detail in a later section—so read on if you're interested in the specifics.
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How to find one that actually works
Like most things in beauty, antioxidant supplement efficacy is entirely dependent on the product. Asking if an antioxidant supplement works for the skin is like asking if an antioxidant serum works for the skin: A well-made option can have glowing results, but you can't expect a miracle from a less-than-stellar formulation.
And this is where you need to do a bit of work to make sure you're getting the top results. So what should you look for to make sure that your antioxidant supplement will actually improve skin health? Here are some of the key things to look for:
"Fairy dusting" is a notorious problem in both beauty supplements and topicals: Meaning a brand will sprinkle in a small amount of an ingredient, and then make marketing claims associated with the active. Brands should be upfront about the "why" behind their dosage and provide research to support the ingredient at that amount.
Additionally, brands should indicate how long it might take to see results, what results you should see, and (again) the research to back these claims up. Because every ingredient has different strengths and timelines, brands should guide you on how long the process might take.
Transparency is important—this is true for any product you buy, topicals and supplements included. When it comes to antioxidant supplements, any benefits listed should come with supporting science (as noted above). Additionally, quality testing—from the raw material to the finished product—should be rigorous and transparent to ensure purity, potency, and peace of mind.
A thoughtful formula and clean ingredients
Some antioxidant supplements will offer singular ingredients, while others will combine several actives to incrementally support the intended outcome. If it's the former, be sure there aren't other ingredients needed to bolster the primary antioxidant's efficacy (for example, vitamin C is often paired with an accessory antioxidant like vitamin E). If it's the latter, be sure each ingredient is added at a meaningful dose.
But it's not just the active ingredients. On the quest to find the cleanest formulas, we suggest looking out for excipients (aka, the "Other ingredients" list) like gums, fillers, corn syrup, synthetic dyes, artificial flavors, and sugar alcohols—if you'd like to use a supplement that has them, that's fine; just know that truly premium formulas tend to skip these additives.
What to expect?
Because antioxidants are such a broad category with many different examples, it's hard to set expectations if you're not getting into specifics on type, dosage, time frame, clinical studies, and lifestyle factors.
So with that being said, there are general expectations associated with antioxidant supplementation and the skin. That's what we're discussing in this section. But if you want more specific information—be sure to look into the exact antioxidant you're taking, how much of it is in the supplement, and so on.
If you decide to take antioxidants for skin health, it's crucial to practice patience. As with all health-related changes, it will take time for the supplements to yield noticeable effects. So, for best results, take the supplement consistently and as instructed on the bottle, then give it about three months before looking to see any holistic results, recommends Nava Greenfield, M.D., board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group.
On that note, these results can vary greatly. It depends on many other factors, including the ingredient, your overall diet, and other skin care habits. As Greenfield explains, "Antioxidant supplements should be one piece of a [bigger] picture." But in general, compared to someone who has the exact same lifestyle and habits, you may experience more youthful-looking skin when taking antioxidant supplements, she says.* Here, some topline benefits commonly associated with antioxidant supplements.
- Support collagen and elastin. When your body is put under oxidative stress, your production of collagen and elastin slows down—not to mention these precious structural skin cell proteins actually start to break down. Additionally, antioxidant vitamin C and E are vital parts of the collagen and elastin synthesis process.*
- Brighten tone. Antioxidants can have photoprotective qualities from UV rays, the primary cause of discoloration.*
- Soothes skin. Free radicals and oxidants stress the skin. Since antioxidants neutralize free radicals, they can offer balancing properties to calm reactive processes.*
- Eases fine lines. Due to the above, plus positive effects on skin hydration and elasticity, you may see improvement in the appearance of wrinkles in the skin.*
- Supporting detoxification and cellular rejuvenation pathways. One of the key elements of skin longevity is making sure your body's detoxification and cellular rejuvenation pathways are healthy.*
While most antioxidants (e.g., nutrients and plant bioactives) are beneficial and tolerated with ease, in some individuals, antioxidant supplements may cause side effects. Again, this can vary widely depending on the supplement ingredients and person. So always check in with your health care practitioner before starting a new routine.
Ingredients that should be in your antioxidant supplement.
When looking for a supplement, consider choosing a product with multiple antioxidant ingredients. Research has shown1 that using a combination of antioxidant compounds bolsters the antioxidant action of the supplement, yielding optimal results.* Before picking a supplement, "make sure you have no sensitivities to [the] ingredients," says Greenfield. Again, it's a good idea to consult your doctor before taking a new supplement, especially if you're pregnant, nursing, or taking other supplements or medications.
Here are a few antioxidants to consider:
Ubiquinol is the "active" form of coenzyme Q10, or CoQ10, a fat-soluble substance with potent antioxidant properties. "This ingredient can help reduce oxidative stress [in] the body, and for the skin in particular, it can help stimulate collagen production," explains Farber. It can also ease sun-induced collagen breakdown and smooth fine lines and wrinkling, she adds.*
According to Greenfield, this ingredient is an extract from a fern plant grown in South America. "It works to neutralize unstable oxygen species in the skin, thereby reducing oxidative stress, which can cause skin aging," says Greenfield.*
Astaxanthin is a specific type of carotenoid with notable antioxidant properties. As Farber explains, "It can help restore skin cell DNA, reduce the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and hyperpigmentation."*
Vitamin C is a superstar in skin care, and for good reason, too. In addition to supporting collagen production and neutralizing free radicals, this essential micronutrient also regenerates vitamin E1, another antioxidant. Moreover, unlike topical vitamin C, the supplemental form doesn't pose a risk of photosensitivity, which is always a plus.*
As mentioned, vitamin E is also an antioxidant. When taken orally, this fat-soluble vitamin can help with photostress, support collagen integrity, and modulate inflammatory processes in the skin.*
Glutathione is a tripeptide compound and the body's "master antioxidant," produced naturally from three amino acids: cysteine, glycine, and glutamine. It plays a critical part in your skin's and body's detoxification organs and systems.*
Polyphenols are some of the most famous skin-supporting antioxidants; they're found in many plant extracts, with some famous ones being pomegranates, green tea, and grapes. They have been shown to protect your body's cells (including skin) from free radicals, which can lead to skin aging. Under the polyphenol section, you also have resveratrol, another buzzy beauty number that’s found in grapes, Japanese knotweed, and via fermentation.*
If you'd like to support your skin goals from the inside out, consider taking an antioxidant supplement.* This type of supplement can set your skin up for success by boosting your body's natural defenses against oxidative stress.* This is noteworthy, as oxidative stress is involved in many common skin concerns, including photodamage, wrinkling, barrier function, and discoloration.
Kirsten Nunez is a health and lifestyle journalist based in Beacon, New York. She has a Master of Science in Nutrition from Texas Woman's University and Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from SUNY Oneonta. Kirsten specializes in nutrition, fitness, food, and DIY; her work has been featured in a variety of publications, including eHow, SparkPeople, and international editions of Cosmopolitan. She also creates recipes for food product packaging.