Generally speaking, antioxidants are produced by our own bodies (endogenous antioxidants) and are contained in foods such as fruits and vegetables; higher levels can be achieved through supplementation and it is believed to help lessen the effects of the free radicals to the whole body. Antioxidants are significantly reduced during aging and by factors such as smoking and UV radiation among the others.
Here though we are going to focus just on the aging skin and the topical application of the antioxidants.
Free radicals in the skin are molecules that injure the skin’s cells and cause inflammation, increase sun damage and contribute to the development of skin cancer. Antioxidants are a large and heterogeneous group of molecules that reduce the concentration of free radicals in the skin when applied topically.
Their effect can be summarized as:
- Anti-oxidative, whilst free radicals promote oxidation, antioxidants do the opposite
We will go through some of the most commonly used antioxidants in cosmeceuticals formulations.
Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid)
Besides the ability to reduce free radicals and photodamage, vitamin C also provides preservative properties for the skin care product itself. Moreover, it stimulates the connective tissue metabolism in the skin, leading to production of new collagen and elastin. It is also an effective depigmenting agent.
Vitamin B3 (Niacinamide)
Vitamin B3 has the ability to prevent the transfer of melanosomes from the melanocytes to the keratinocytes. This way it effectively prevents hyperpigmentation. It also promotes the synthesis of fatty acids thus acting as a moisturizer and anti-aging product.
Vitamin E (Tocopherol and Tocotrienol)
Vitamin E is another antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties. It is supposed to smoothen the skin surface and increase moisture, protect from photodamage and accelerate the production of new skin cells (keratinocytes). It is often found in combination with vitamin C in skincare products.
Alpha-lipoic acid has a proven antioxidant effect and showed significant improvements of age-related skin changes in clinical trials. It also prevents depletion of other antioxidants in the skin. It might even boost the levels of other antioxidants, such as vitamin C, diminish fine lines and give the skin a healthy glow.
Coenzyme Q10 (Ubiquinone)
Coenzyme Q10 has a crucial role in cell biology. It is fundamental for energy production in the cell, but its concentration is diminished by age and other external factors. Topical application has been proven to replenish ubiquinone levels both on skin surface and in the deeper levels of the skin. Due to its antioxidant capacity, besides improving metabolism of the cell, it is also very effective against free radicals.
Glutathione plays many important roles in different physiological functions. It has good antioxidant properties too. There is a lot of hype now regarding its skin lightening properties and possible use as treatment for hyperpigmentation; as of today the evidence for this claims are inconclusive, many clinical trials have been established and are still ongoing, whilst others have been concluded already with discordant results.
DMAE has proven hydration effects on the skin when applied topically. It is also effective in reducing fine lines and improving overall appearance of the aging skin. It is considered to be good for skin tone too thanks to its ability to keep good levels of neurotransmitters in the skin. It is naturally found in anchovies, sardines and salmon.
So will antioxidants be as effective as more invasive treatments?
Although there is supporting evidence for most of the claims, there are several issues when it comes to this type of topical treatments:
- Is the concentration high enough in the formulation?
- Is the formulation stable or will the antioxidants break down before being applied?
- Will the active ingredient in the cream be effectively absorbed when applied?
So while the antioxidants have been studied and proven effective in the labs and trials, we do not know about each brand formulation and the only way to know its effectiveness is by trying and finding the product that works best for you. One word of advice: the higher concentration does not necessarily mean better outcome; sometimes higher concentrations lead to skin irritation!
Last edit: 19/05/2018