The 9 Best Antioxidants For Glowing Skin — Science-Approved

Contributing writer By Rebecca Dancer
Contributing writer
Rebecca Dancer is a beauty and lifestyle writer who obtained a print and digital journalism degree from the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California. She’s worked at and contributed to various print and digital publications, including Byrdie, Allure, Brides, Teen Vogue, Beauty Independent, Shape, SELF, and Women's Wear Daily.
Medical review by Keira Barr, M.D.
Board-certified dermatologist
Keira Barr is a dual board-certified dermatologist and founder of the Resilient Health Institute.
glowing skin

Image by Liliya Rodnikova / Stocksy

In the ever-advancing world of skin care, there is one ingredient category whose benefits will never fall out of favor: antioxidants. There's a reason doctors, derms, and registered dietitians all tell you to use them (be it topically or via your diet and supplementation). 

Research continually proves just how powerful these workhorses are—they help manage free radical damage, fade fine lines and dark spots, and even support collagen and elastin in the skin.* Basically, they can do it all, but that's not to say you should reach for all of them at once. Each topical antioxidant posits a specific host of benefits—here, we're breaking them all down: 

1. Vitamin C

"Vitamin C is one of the few active ingredients that can benefit all skin types," Elizabeth Tanzi, M.D., board-certified dermatologist in the Washington, D.C., metro area and associate professor of dermatology at George Washington University Medical Center, previously told mindbodygreen. This potent antioxidant when used topically has been clinically proven, time and time again, to help even out skin tone and texture: Things like fading hyperpigmentation, brightening, stimulating collagen production, and even taming rosacea (thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties). 

Even more interesting, research has found that when skin is excessively exposed to external aggressors (unprotected UV exposure and pollution, for example), its natural reserves of vitamin C become depleted. It makes sense, then, that replenishing vitamin C levels in the skin can lead to a seemingly endless list of protective and restorative benefits. It's important to find a stable, well-formulated topical serum, as the vitamin turns ineffective easily. You can also consider vitamin C supplementation, which has been shown to support collagen production in the skin.*

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2. Vitamin E

Oil-soluble antioxidant vitamin E works on an even deeper level in the skin than vitamin C—although these two topicals become even more potent when used in tandem. In addition to protecting skin from photodamage, vitamin E is known to promote cellular restoration, thereby strengthening the skin barrier (it supports skin health when ingested as a supplement, too).* 

3. Astaxanthin

This powerful antioxidant belongs to the carotenoid family. Quick refresher: Carotenoids are a subgroup of antioxidants (others include flavonoids and polyphenols), and these substances are responsible for the bright red and orange hues of certain foods (like carrots). Among them, another antioxidant called beta-carotene typically takes all the glory—even though research has found that astaxanthin is a whopping five times more potent. Benefits of this topical include preventing skin damage caused by sun exposure, in turn making it a healthy-aging powerhouse. When taken as a supplement, it protects the skin's collagen layer, supports UV protection, helps reduce fine lines and age spots, and supports skin hydration.*

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Cellular beauty has arrived with this revolutionary formula, featuring the powerful antioxidant astaxanthin.*

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4. Vitamin B3—aka niacinamide

Topical vitamin B3 not only posits a long list of research-backed skin benefits—including smoothing fine lines and wrinkles, boosting elasticity, and fading hyperpigmentation—but it's also gentle and generally well-tolerated among all skin types. What's even better? Niacinamide promotes healthy skin barrier function, thanks to its ability to stimulate the synthesis of ceramides, which are an essential component of the skin barrier. It can also prevent sallowness, or yellow undertones, in the skin. 

5. Reservatrol

Reservatrol is a naturally occurring polyphenol with antioxidant properties, and these micronutrients are also responsible for giving certain foods—such as grapes, raspberries and red wine—their deep-colored hues. Research has found that when used topically, this polyphenol has anti-aging benefits, namely preserving collagen levels and taming skin inflammation. Additionally, reservatrol has been shown to have a lightening and brightening effect on skin tone.   

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6. Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)

You may not have heard of this antioxidant (yet), but its research-backed ability to preserve collagen levels in the skin are well documented. The technical term for this antioxidant is ubiquinone, and it's naturally present in all human cells wherein it scavenges free radicals, protects our mitochondria, and prevents DNA from oxidative stress. CoQ10 is also naturally present in the skin—though our natural reserves steadily decline with age, and also after unprotected UV exposure. This is precisely why research has concluded that applying CoQ10 topically has serious skin-aging benefits. 

7. Vitamin A—aka retinol

Retinol, perhaps the most well-known and sought-after topical ingredient to stave off skin aging, is actually vitamin A, and it's also a potent antioxidant. Topically, retinol works to speed up skin cell turnover rate, thereby improving tone and texture, treating UV damage, fading fine lines, and even clearing up acne. You'll find many types of retinoids both OTC and in prescription form, which can make picking out the right one feel very overwhelming (see: what you need to know about retinol for more). 

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8. Polyphenols

Another subgroup of antioxidants, polyphenols are plant-based micronutrients that are jam-packed with antioxidant power. In the skin care world, you'll find polyphenols derived from things like green tea, pomegranate, and red wine. 

Studies have found that topical application of polyphenols can help repair skin, protect it from sun damage, and even reverse signs of skin aging (like dark spots, fine lines, and wrinkles). When used in combination with sunscreen, green tea polyphenols, specifically, have been shown to have an ultraprotective effect against UV rays and subsequent photodamage. 

9. Soy

Extracted from soybeans, studies have found that soy has antioxidant abilities that can help fade hyperpigmentation, boost skin elasticity, and prevent photodamage to the skin. For those with acne-prone and/or naturally dry skin, soy extract can also simultaneously moisturize the skin and curb oil production. What's more, unlike other antioxidants that can increase skin's sensitivity to the sun (ahem, retinol), the anti-aging benefits of soy extract are suited for daytime wear, according to research

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