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Why You Should Be Using an Antioxidant Serum

Shape logo Shape 5 days ago Brittany Loggins
Mallika Sherawat talking on a cell phone: Artem Varnitsin/EyeEm/Getty © Provided by Shape Artem Varnitsin/EyeEm/Getty

While the benefits of using antioxidants in skin care have been known for a while, chances are, you still might not have an antioxidant serum in your rotation. While it might be tempting to skip the extra expense of adding yet another product to your line-up, the skin health benefits prove it's well worth exploring.

ICYDK, antioxidants are the unsung heroes of the skin-care world. They protect your skin from UV rays, air pollution, and other factors (including poor diet or the effects of binge drinking on a night out — more on that in a bit) that can wreak havoc on your skin. What do these stressors all have in common? Free radicals. "When your skin is exposed to radiation from the sun, smoke, and things such as environmental pollutants, free radical oxygen species can be generated which cause damage to the skin," explains Kavita Mariwalla, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Mariwalla Dermatology. "That damage manifests as wrinkling, a sallow appearance, and can even lead to hyperpigmentation." (Related: How to Protect Your Skin from Free Radical Damage)

Free radicals are molecules that are missing an electron. Because electrons like to be in pairs, this sends them searching for a way to be whole again, interacting with other molecules and potentially causing large chain chemical reactions within the body, according to research. A balance between free radicals and antioxidants is crucial for proper bodily function, and if free radicals overwhelm the body's ability to regulate them, it could lead to oxidative stress. From here, free radicals can alter lipids, proteins, and DNA, and can even trigger infections or disease. In addition to dietary changes, such as consuming food and drink that naturally contain antioxidants (i.e. fish, vegetables, berries, and red wine), topical application of antioxidants can assist in coping with this oxidative stress, says Dr. Mariwalla.

That said, not only do antioxidants protect the skin and body from oxidative stress, but they also are anti-inflammatory. This means they reduce pain, swelling, redness and promote a more radiant and youthful complexion by reducing wrinkles, plumping the skin, minimizing acne scars, and repairing sun damage. "When you apply an antioxidant topically, it can slow down the aging process and make the skin appear brighter and fresh," says Dr. Mariwalla. "Using antioxidants in your skin-care routine will lighten hyperpigmentation, correct signs of aging, brighten skin tone, and calm irritation." (Related: Does Your Hair Need Antioxidants, Too?)

With so many products on the market, honing in on one antioxidant formula can be challenging. Dr. Mariwalla suggests opting for products that contain the most powerful antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin B3, and ferulic acid. To make your search a lot easier, check out this guide to the best antioxidant serums, according to Dr. Mariwalla and enthusiastic customer reviews.

No7 Protect & Perfect Intense Advanced Serum

This serum is a pick from Dr. Mariwalla. In addition to being rich in antioxidants, it's also packed with hyaluronic acid to help restore moisture to your skin and peptides, which work to reduce the appearance of wrinkles. (Related: 12 Sneaky Everyday Things That Age You)

One fan wrote: "I use this product morning and night right after cleansing and before moisturizing. It has reduced some of the fine lines around my eyes and forehead. Great product!"

Buy It: No7 Protect & Perfect Intense Advanced Serum, $30, ulta.com

Drunk Elephant C-Firma Vitamin C Day Serum

On top of vitamin C, this serum is loaded with antioxidants — think ferulic acid and vitamin E — nutrients, and fruit enzymes to firm, brighten, and minimize signs of aging. It also features fermented pumpkin and pomegranate extract to slough off dead skin cells and reduce the appearance of pores and Chronocyclin, which mimics the antioxidant benefits of vitamin D for younger-looking skin.

"I saw an immediate difference in my skin texture and firmness, and also age spots," shared a customer. "Keep it in the fridge! A delightful treat every morning," (Related: Do You Really Need a Skin-Care Fridge?)

Buy It: Drunk Elephant C-Firma Vitamin C Day Serum, $80, amazon.com

First Aid Beauty Facial Radiance Niacinamide Dark Spot Serum

Consider this your dark spot zapper! The gentle, niacinamide-powered serum helps to reduce dark spots, hyperpigmentation, discoloration, and acne scars. It also contains licorice root to sooth skin and boost brightness, and antioxidant-rich golden kiwifruit, which actually has more vitamin C than an orange. (Psst, check out all the health benefits of oranges here.)

"This stuff is amazing!" raved a shopper. "I tried a sample thinking, 'Yeah, right! I won't see a difference in one day.' But I did notice that my skin was brighter and more even after just one use. After purchasing, I continue to be impressed. It's very gentle and anti-inflammatory."

Buy It: First Aid Beauty Facial Radiance Niacinamide Dark Spot Serum, $42, sephora.com

Glow Recipe Pineapple-C Bright Serum


Gallery: My Reactive Skin Feels Calm and Hydrated After Using the Kinship Oat Ceramide Oil (PopSugar)

This serum is another recommendation from Dr. Mariwalla, and for good reason. It combines antioxidant-rich vitamin C with AHA acids (chemical exfoliants that help to dissolve and peel dead skin cells), and also has pineapple juice to hydrate and brighten and chamomile to calm and soothe skin.

One reviewer wrote: "This is the vitamin C everyone needs in their life, gets rid of pigmentation, brown spots and makes skin look, feel, and smell great (it smells of pineapple). As everyone that's searched for years for the perfect vitamin C serum knows, it's tough. Most turn brown and oxidize while others burn or sting. This does NOT do that! Use it for a few months and you'll see that this is the real deal."

Buy It: Glow Recipe Pineapple-C Bright Serum, $49, sephora.com

Tatcha Violet-C Brightening Serum

With a formula packing 20 percent vitamin C, and 10 percent AHA acids — derived from seven different fruits, including apple, grapefruit, orange, lemon, lime, hawthorn, and jujube — this antioxidant serum will soften, smooth, and brighten for improved skin tone. (Related: PHA Acids Might Be the Best Exfoliating Ingredient for Sensitive Skin)

"I have combo/sensitive skin, so I've always struggled to find products that help my pores/dryness/redness that is easy on my skin at the same time," said a customer. "This serum is pure gold! I'm about two weeks in and have noticed my skin looks brighter, smoother, and I'm even starting to get a bit of a glow!"

Buy It: Tatcha Violet-C Brightening Serum, $88, sephora.com

The INKEY List Q10 Antioxidant Serum

If you're on a budget, this cost-effective serum will give you serious protection and benefits without breaking the bank. The formula boasts Co-Q10 — an antioxidant that protects against environmental stress — as well as skin-firming peptides and squalane to improve hydration.

"I LOVE this serum," raved one happy shopper. "It's hydrating, protects the skin, and has helped my acne and acne scars heal."

Buy It: The INKEY List Q10 Antioxidant Serum, $7, sephora.com

Sunday Riley CEO Brightening Serum

Not only is this one of Mariwalla's favorite antioxidant serums, but it's chock full of good-for-your-skin ingredients, including vitamin C and plant saccharides to support the skin's moisture barrier, minimize pore size, and target signs of aging. (Related: Skin-Care Products That Protect Against Pollution)

One fan wrote: "This is one of the most awesome products I have ever purchased. I have dark spots on my face and this product is lightning them up."

Buy It: Sunday Riley CEO Brightening Serum, $76, amazon.com

Murad Rapid Dark Spot Correcting Serum

This antioxidant serum supports natural cell turnover for more radiant, even-looking skin, which can be credited to ingredients like glycolic acid (removes dead and dull skin cells) and resorcinol and tranexamic acid, which minimize the appearance of hyperpigmentation and dark spots.

"I absolutely love this serum," reported a customer. "It lightened the dark spots that were on my face from the sun exposure through the years. It is a very nice consistency and doesn't feel greasy at all."

Buy It: Murad Rapid Dark Spot Correcting Serum, $72, sephora.com

MaeLove Glow Maker Serum

Made with vitamin C, vitamin E, ferulic acid, and hyaluronic acid, this antioxidant serum checks a lot of boxes when it comes to the ingredients, says Dr. Mariwalla. It's constantly selling out on the brand's site and has managed to maintain a perfect rating, even with more than 8,500 reviews.

"I am only halfway through the bottle but finally after months of the worst and darkest acne scars on my cheeks and chin, they are lightening and healing after a couple of weeks using this," said a shopper.

Buy It: MaeLove Glow Maker Serum, $28, maelove.com

iS Clinical Super Serum Advance Plus

It might be a splurge, but this product was recommended by both Dr. Mariwalla and reviewers — so you know it's good. What makes it so great? It's packed full of L-ascorbic (otherwise known as vitamin C), hydrating hyaluronic acid, amino acids, and peptides to even pigmentation, zap acne (even pesky breakouts from face mask-wearing), encourage collagen production, and protect against environmental damage from UV rays and pollution.

One reviewer wrote: "I am highly prone to hyperpigmentation, as well as scarring from pimples, especially with having to wear the N95 at work daily and sweating in it. This serum in just a few days has been life-changing! This is the first serum to actually show instant results with brightening my skin and my skin has healed so much already." (See: This Sustainable Skin-Care Brand Banished My Maskne for Good)

Buy It: iS Clinical Super Serum Advance Plus, $155, dermstore.com

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