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In the skin care community, the word antioxidant gets thrown around a lot. Why does it seem like every otheractive ingredient is an antioxidant? Is there a difference inhow they combat oxidative damage? If you’re interested inbiohacking your way to better skin, optimizing your antioxidant regimen is a great place to start.


Radiation from the sun, pollutants in the air, and other extrinsic factors like smoking cause oxidative damage to the skin.The largest contributor to reactive oxygen species (ROS) formation for most people is our daily sun exposure[1]. Humans are made of ~80% water (H2O) and UV-radiation causes radiolysis, or splitting, of these H2O molecules into highly reactive molecules like superoxide (O2-), hydroxyl(OH-), or hydrogen peroxide (H2O2)[2]. ROS are then free to oxidize membrane lipids, proteins, and DNA, rendering them all less efficient for their specific purposes. When oxidative damage accumulates, it causes even more ROS formation, creating a negative feedback loop that eventually drives cells to cell death or senescence, a dormant but inflammatory state[3].


Not all antioxidants combat all types of ROS. Additionally, some are water soluble (hydrophilic) and others are lipid-soluble (hydrophobic) which means they act in different layers of the epidermis and in different compartments in the cell[4]. Some antioxidants are small molecules while others are larger peptides or entire functional enzymes.The simplest classification of antioxidant mechanisms is by primary or secondary classes[5]. The primary class reacts directly with ROS, neutralizing them and breaking the oxidative chain reaction. The secondary class is more supportive, regenerating primary antioxidants, chelating (blocking) metal ions from reacting with ROS, inhibiting ROS-producing enzymes, and upregulating cellular antioxidant enzymes[6]. 


Using one antioxidant is better than none but if you want to biohack the perfect regimen, you’ll want to combine complementary antioxidant strategies. Our resources section provides detailed explanations of some of the most popular antioxidant compounds.Vitamin C (hydrophilic, small molecule) is the most widely available antioxidant and it works synergistically with vitamin E (hydrophobic, small molecule) toprevent photodamage from the sun[4,7].Lutein (hydrophobic, small molecule) is one of our favorites as itblocks against blue light damage[8]. Plant extracts contain polyphenols which are great antioxidants however they also have hundreds of additional natural compounds and can vary widely between extraction methods[9].GHK-Cu is a copper chelating peptide and is renowned for its manyskin repairing mechanisms[10]. There are so many effective products on the market that we think the best approach is to arm yourself with knowledge and take the time to ask questions either to experts available on social media, dermatologists, or at brand websites. A strong, well rounded antioxidant regimen will provide long lasting skin health effects.


1. Rinnerthaler M, Bischof J, Streubel MK, Trost A, Richter K (2015) Oxidative Stress in Aging Human Skin.Biomolecules 5, 545–589.

2. Azzam EI, Jay-Gerin J-P, Pain D (2012) Ionizing radiation-induced metabolic oxidative stress and prolonged cell injury.Cancer Lett 327, 48–60.

3. Naidoo K, Birch-Machin MA (2017) Oxidative Stress and Ageing: The Influence of Environmental Pollution, Sunlight and Diet on Skin.Cosmetics 4, 4.

4. McDaniel DH, Waugh JM, Jiang LI, Stephens TJ, Yaroshinsky A, Mazur C, Wortzman M, Nelson DB (2019) Evaluation of the Antioxidant Capacity and Protective Effects of a Comprehensive Topical Antioxidant Containing Water-soluble, Enzymatic, and Lipid-soluble Antioxidants.J Clin Aesthet Dermatol 12, 46–53.

5. Santos-Sánchez NF, Salas-Coronado R, Villanueva-Cañongo C, Hernández-Carlos B (2019) Antioxidant Compounds and Their Antioxidant Mechanism.Antioxidants.

6. Lü J-M, Lin PH, Yao Q, Chen C (2010) Chemical and molecular mechanisms of antioxidants: experimental approaches and model systems.J Cell Mol Med 14, 840–860.

7. Darr D, Dunston S, Faust H, Pinnell S (1996) Effectiveness of antioxidants (vitamin C and E) with and without sunscreens as topical photoprotectants.Acta Derm Venereol 76, 264–268.

8. Juturu V, Bowman JP, Deshpande J (2016) Overall skin tone and skin-lightening-improving effects with oral supplementation of lutein and zeaxanthin isomers: a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial.Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol 9, 325–332.

9. de Mello Andrade JM, Fasolo D (2014) Chapter 20 - Polyphenol Antioxidants from Natural Sources and Contribution to Health Promotion. InPolyphenols in Human Health and Disease, Watson RR, Preedy VR, Zibadi S, eds. Academic Press, San Diego, pp. 253–265.

10. Pickart L, Vasquez-Soltero JM, Margolina A (2015) GHK Peptide as a Natural Modulator of Multiple Cellular Pathways in Skin Regeneration.Biomed Res Int 2015,.