Five Super Anti-Aging Antioxidants Your Skin Needs Now


In This Article:

When it comes to anti-aging ingredients, the research is abundantly clear: Antioxidants reign supreme. Not only do antioxidants combat the free-radical damage that is responsible for the visible (and hidden) signs of aging, they also enhance the effectiveness of sunscreens in preventing sun damage. Indeed, during the day, the combination of antioxidants plus sun protection is a strong defense against many signs of aging, including wrinkles, dullness, and discoloration. At night, dosing your skin with a range of antioxidants will promote cellular repair and healing.

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Which Antioxidant is Best?

There are hundreds of trendy antioxidants that show up in skin-care lines, but antioxidants don't need to be exotic or have a good marketing story to work brilliantly. Despite what marketers may claim about Tibetan berries or about melons harvested at dawn in the south of France, what matters most is treating your skin to a variety of antioxidants. In other words, take a cocktail approach, and give skin its very own happy hour with an array of potent, stable, and well-researched antioxidants!

Again, skin gets the most benefit when several antioxidants are applied together, much the same way that eating a variety of fruits and vegetables is healthier than eating only apples or only broccoli. So, the search for, and the claims about, the one "best" antioxidant or the "best" ingredients for skin are fruitless (pun intended).

Research makes it clear that there are dozens of effective antioxidants, but it also reveals a short list of antioxidants that are proven superior in addressing anti-aging concerns. Follow along as the Paula's Choice Research Team presents the five most well-researched and effective antioxidants, and explains how you can get the most out of them in your skin-care routine.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E (often listed as tocopherol or tocotrienols), one of the most well-known antioxidants, is a fat-soluble vitamin available in both natural and synthetic forms. Research shows that both forms provide significant antioxidant benefits to skin, but that the natural forms are more potent and have a higher retention rate (meaning they are absorbed better by skin) than their synthetic counterparts.

What it does:

Vitamin E works in several different ways to protect cell membranes from oxidative damage and from the early stages of ultraviolet light damage. It also works in powerful synergy with vitamin C; that is, a serum or treatment that contains both vitamins C and E can be doubly beneficial. Look for Vitamin E in serums and moisturizers.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C (listed as ascorbic acid, tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate, among others) is a potent antioxidant that works particularly well for treating wrinkles, dullness, and brown spots. This well-researched water-soluble vitamin is considered an anti-aging superstar.

Note that vitamin C, like any antioxidant, must be packaged to protect it from excess exposure to light and air. Although ascorbic acid and L-ascorbic acid are the forms most prone to breaking down with repeated exposure to light and air, even the stabilized forms of vitamin C don't remain as potent if they are not packaged to minimize or eliminate their exposure to light and air. Avoid any vitamin C product packaged in a jar, unless what's inside the jar are individually sealed, single-use capsules.

What it does:

When applied topically, vitamin C has been proven to increase collagen production (including dermal collagen, which is significant in the fight against wrinkles). There is also research showing that vitamin C reduces skin discolorations, strengthens the skin's barrier response, enhances skin's repair process, reduces inflammation, and helps skin better withstand exposure to sunlight, whether protected by sunscreen or not. How cool is that?! Amounts from 0.5% to 20% have shown impressive efficacy. Vitamin C is found in all sorts of products, from lip balms to eye creams, but you'll get the most out of this antioxidant in targeted treatment products and skin-brightening serums.


Resveratrol is a potent polyphenolic antioxidant that's found in red grapes, red wine, nuts, and fruits such as blueberries and cranberries.

What it does:

Resveratrol has incredible protective benefits for the skin. When applied topically, it protects against sun damage, improves collagen production, and reduces cell damage. It is a stable, potent antioxidant worth seeking out in a skin-care product. It also has significant anti-inflammatory properties—and inflammation is a major behind-the-scenes culprit of multiple skin issues, from acne to rosacea to eczema. In addition, studies have shown that resveratrol inhibits tumor development. Look for resveratrol in moisturizers and anti-aging makeup.


Retinol, the term for the entire vitamin A molecule, has a long-established reputation as a brilliant ingredient for skin. It is a cell-communicating ingredient and an antioxidant, and provides multiple benefits when used on a regular basis. Although it is not the only ingredient to look for in an anti-aging product, it deserves strong consideration by anyone who wants to keep their skin younger and healthier over the years. An added benefit is that retinol also has been shown to reduce breakouts, brown spots, and red marks from past breakouts. In skin-care products, it's found in the form of retinol, retinyl palmitate, and retinylaldehyde. In prescription-only skin-care products, it is in the form of retinoic acid (also called tretinoin); other prescription topical retinoids include adapalene (Differin) and tazarotene (Tazorac).

What it does:

Retinol helps skin create better, healthier skin cells and increase the production of skin-support substances such as ceramides. Retinol has been shown to increase the skin's collagen production and glycosaminoglycan content (an important skin-protecting substance found in young skin), resulting in firmer skin with an improved texture and enhanced barrier function. If you want firmer skin—Use retinol! Retinol is found in all types of products, from moisturizers to serums to body treatments and many others.

Tip: New research shows that retinol is helpful for those with rosacea because it works against the inflammation that causes the persistent redness.

Green Tea

Green tea is a potent antioxidant, whether consumed orally or applied topically. A significant amount of research have established that tea—green, black, or white—has many intriguing health benefits, including anti-aging benefits. The key compound in green tea that provides antioxidant protection is epigallocatechin-3 gallate (EGCG).

What it does:

Current research indicates that EGCG extract, applied topically, can prevent collagen breakdown and reduce UV damage to the skin, which is a very good reason to use skin-care products that contain one or more forms of tea! Green tea is also very good at reducing inflammation. Look for green tea in moisturizers and in products for rosacea.

Antioxidants Perform Even Better Together

When it comes to treating your skin to antioxidants, remember the old adage: "Strength in numbers." When the top-notch antioxidants we describe above are combined and working together, and reinforced with daily use of sunscreen and other antioxidants and skin-beneficial ingredients, the results are remarkable! Remember: A good sales story doesn't necessarily equate to a superior antioxidant. What really matters is that the products you use are formulated with several of these tried-and-true ingredients.

Tip: For added benefit, make sure to eat plenty of antioxidants as well. In this case, what's good for your skin is also good for your body!

The Best Skin of Your Life Starts Here: The same type of in-depth scientific research used to create this article is also used to formulate Paula’s Choice Skincare products. You’ll find products for all skin types and a range of concerns, from acne and sensitive skin to wrinkles, pores, and sun damage. With Paula’s Choice Skincare, you can get (and keep) the best skin of your life! See Paula's Choice Antioxidant Serums.

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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:

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The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to busting beauty myths and helping you solve your skincare frustrations with research-supported expert advice—so you'll have the facts you need to take the best possible care of your skin.

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