What are Antioxidants & What Do They Do for Skin?

8 minutes
April 27, 2023

That term gets tossed around all the time when people are speaking about skincare. But if you’re not quite sure what they’re talking about (don’t be shy — you’re not alone), we’re here to help you understand why the skin-obsessed are pro antioxidants.

Antioxidants: a brief definition

Antioxidants are molecules, either man-made or naturally occurring, that help prevent cellular damage caused by free radicals. This is important for your skin, of course, but for all your other organs as well since free radicals don’t just attack your face — they’re also present inside your body.

What Do Antioxidants Do for Skin & How Do They Do It?

Free radicals are renegade molecules that like to steal electrons from the molecules in healthy cells. When a healthy molecule loses an electron, it becomes unstable. Once too many molecules are altered, it can wreak havoc on the formerly healthy cell, leading to what’s called “oxidative stress.” Oxidative stress manifests in ways such as weakened collagen and elastin fibers (resulting in wrinkles and sagging) and excess, patchy discoloration. (Think about the way a cut-up apple looks once you leave the slices sitting out for too long.) This damage can be both immediate and long term. 

Antioxidants help stabilize renegade molecules by giving them the missing electron they so desperately crave. The superpower of antioxidants is that they’re able to give away electrons without turning into free radicals themselves. The more you’re able to stop free radicals in their tracks, the less oxidative stress and ensuing cellular damage they can cause. 

Antioxidant Benefits for Skin

It’s important to include topical antioxidants into your daily skincare routine because there is literally no way you can avoid being exposed to free radicals. Sure, you can avoid smokers (one source of free radicals) and always wear your sunscreen (UV rays are another free radical factory), but pollution, stress, and just the simple act of drawing breath also generate free radicals. Nothing is going to shield you 100 percent from free radicals inside and out, but without adding topical antioxidants to your regimen, you’re not even giving your skin a fighting chance. 

Antioxidant Skin Benefits:

  • Prevent & reverse free radical damage
  • Protect collagen
  • Stimulate natural collagen production 
  • Reduce the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, & hyperpigmentation  
  • Anti-inflammatory 

What types of antioxidants are there?

Almost every day it can seem there’s an announcement of a new kind of antioxidant on the market that’s more powerful than any that have come before it. And truly, there are myriad types of antioxidants in nature. But before you go chasing after the next new thing, keep in mind that some antioxidants may have been around for a while, but that’s just given them more time to prove their efficacy. Some of the best antioxidants for skin include:

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is possibly the most popular antioxidant around and certainly, the one most people have heard of. Vitamin C is an essential part of a healthy diet (no scurvy here!), and it’s no less important in your topical skincare program. Vitamin C has earned its VIP status time and time again as it’s been proven to gobble up free radicals the way some people go through Girl Scout cookies (Samoas!). But vitamin C doesn’t stop there. Those miracle molecules also stimulate cellular mechanisms that help rein in any excess pigment your skin may be producing (remember when we said above that free radicals can cause dark spots?). And vitamin C is such a workhorse that it helps jumpstart collagen production while it’s at it. We love that for you!

Vitamin E

Close behind vitamin C on the most wanted list is vitamin E, another antioxidant MVP. Unlike vitamin C, vitamin E is lipid soluble, so it can absorb into different layers of the skin. 


Niacinamide (aka vitamin B3) is beloved for its ability to multitask, neutralizing free radicals, while also strengthening skin’s moisture barrier and helping regulate sebum production, among other things. 

And there are so many more beyond that, like green tea extract, grape seed extract, ectoin, rambutan, ferulic acid…the list goes on.

How can you incorporate antioxidants into your skincare routine?

There’s an opportunity for antioxidants in every step of your daily regimen, both am and pm. Because vitamin C is BFFs with sunscreen, it’s always a good idea to include it in your morning get-ready routine. But there’s no reason you can’t also use it at night and nothing to prevent you from combining multiple antioxidants at once. In fact, it’s better that way as you’ll get more thorough and complete fortification against free radicals when you use a blend of antioxidants, as opposed to just one. 


While not every skin type may be suited for our Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Extra Strength Daily Peel, it’s a great source of vitamin E, but only if your skin can tolerate the additional oomph of this peel’s extra-strength formula powered by AHAs and BHAs.


Post-peel, apply a vitamin C serum, like our Dr. Dennis Gross Vitamin C Lactic 15% Vitamin C Firm & Bright Serum. After you give that a minute to absorb, you could top it with our niacinamide-rich Dr. Dennis Gross DermInfusions Fill + Repair Serum for extra reinforcement.


Everyone needs a moisturizer — even people who swear they break out at the mere sight of one. For those types, select an oil-free version, such as our Dr. Dennis Gross Vitamin C Lactic Oil-Free Radiant Moisturizer. For everyone else, there’s our Dr. Dennis Gross Vitamin C Lactic Dewy Deep Cream. Both are bursting with superstar vitamin C.

Eye Cream

Don’t forget about the windows to the soul! The skin around your eyes benefits from antioxidants, too. Vitamin C is excellent as part of your eye care routine since it addresses both discoloration and fine lines while beating back free radicals. Find it in our Dr. Dennis Gross Vitamin C Lactic Firm & Bright Eye Treatment.

Discover Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare for All Your Skincare Needs

For more skincare tips from the experts at Dr. Dennis Gross, check out our blog’s newest content today. Shop the collection of Dr. Dennis Gross bestselling skincare by dermatologists. 

Written By

Kayla Kernel

Kayla is a Medical Esthetician with 10+ years of experience. Growing up, Kayla struggled with cystic acne and scarring. This experience drives her passion to help others on their skincare journey. Kayla specializes in all skin types, tones, and ages.

Read More from Kayla Kernel

Written By

Kayla Kernel

Kayla is a Medical Esthetician with 10+ years of experience. Growing up, Kayla struggled with cystic acne and scarring. This experience drives her passion to help others on their skincare journey. Kayla specializes in all skin types, tones, and ages.

Read More from Kayla Kernel

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