General term for a large group of natural and synthetic ingredients that work to reduce free-radical damage and enviornmental stress on skin. An immense body of research continues to show that antioxidants are a potential panacea for skin’s ills, and ignoring their benefit while shopping for moisturizers (or any products with names like anti-aging or anti-wrinkle or treatment) means you’ll be shortchanging your skin.

What makes antioxidants so intriguing is that they seem to have the ability to reduce or prevent some amount of the oxidative damage that destroys and depletes the skin’s function and structure while also preventing some of the degenerative effects in skin caused by sun exposure. The number of antioxidants that can show up in a skin-care product is almost limitless. Yet despite endless cosmetics companies launching new miracle ingredients on a constant, unrelenting basis there is no single best one, and many work well together. These vital elements for skin can range from alpha lipoic acid, beta-glucan, coenzyme Q10, grape seed extract, green tea, soybean sterols, superoxide dismutase, vitamin C (ascorbyl palmitate and magnesium ascorbyl palmitate), and vitamin E (alpha tocopherol, tocotrienols) to pomegranate, curcurmin, turmeric, and on and on and on.

Although antioxidants have great ability to intercept and mitigate free-radical damage, it is ironic that they share a particular weakness: they deteriorate when repeatedly exposed to air (oxygen) and sunlight. Ironic, yes but it’s actually testament to how antioxidants work in the presence of oxygen and light. Because of this issue, an antioxidant-laden moisturizer packaged in a jar or clear (instead of opaque) container will likely lose its antioxidant benefit within weeks (or days, depending on the formula) after it is opened. This means you should seek out moisturizers with antioxidants that are packaged in opaque tubes or bottles, and check to be sure that the opening the product is dispensed from is small in order to minimize exposing the product to air. Antioxidants, with their molecular weapons against free-radical damage, are considered so vital to our understanding of the origins of wrinkles, cancer, aging, illness, and disease that they have become a profound area of research.

Free-radical damage is what antioxidants are supposed to take care of, either by stopping new damage, or by reversing earlier damage caused by free radicals. And antioxidants can potentially repair damage by allowing healthy cells to proliferate (Sources: Skin Phramacology and Physiology, June 2014, pages 316-332; Clinics in Dermatology, November-December 2008, pages 614–626; Skin Therapy Letter, September 2008, pages 5–9; Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, July 2008, pages S7–S12; Dermatologic Therapy, September-October 2007, pages 322–329; Dermatologic Surgery, “The Antioxidant Network of the Stratum Corneum,” July 2005, pages 814–817; Journal of Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Analysis, February 2005, pages 287–295; and Cosmetic Dermatology, December 2001, pages 37–40).

«Back to Ingredient Dictionary

About the Experts

Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books on skin care and makeup. She is known worldwide as the Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula's Choice. Paula's expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international television including:

View Media Highlights

The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to helping you sort through the myths and half-truths of the cosmetic industry. With their expert advice, you’ll have the facts you need to take the best possible care of your skin.

585633-IIS5 v1.0.0.431 10/4/2015 4:19:43 PM
Skip to Top of Page

Free Email Sign-Up

- (Less Frequent)
- Expert Advice Newsletter (twice a month)
- New reviews on Beautypedia (twice a month)

Birthday (Optional)



Paula’s Choice Auto Delivery is a quick and convenient way to make sure you never run out of your favorite products again. Just select the products you can’t live without, choose how often you’d like them delivered and we’ll take care of the rest.

20% Off One Item + Free Shipping on $50+