Antioxidants for the Skin: Can They Improve Skin Health?

Antioxidants for the Skin: Can They Improve Skin Health?
Page content

What Are Antioxidants?

Healthy Skin (antioxidants improve skin health)

Antioxidants, also called free radical scavengers, are compounds that protect cells from free radicals. Free radicals, also called oxidants, are produced in the body during chemical reactions like when food is broken down, or by external sources such as cigarette smoke, air pollution and UV rays. Free radicals can cause cellular damage, and may play a role in cancer, heart disease and other diseases.

The body produces antioxidants, but some antioxidants are not manufactured in the body and must be supplied in the diet. These include vitamins and minerals. The body constantly needs antioxidants to replace the ones that are used to prevent and repair damage. As the body ages, it tends to produce less antioxidants. Therefore, it is important to include a variety of foods high in antioxidants in the daily diet, especially in the later years of life. So how can antioxidants for the skin help?

Antioxidants and Skin Health

Exposure to sunlight produces free radicals which damage skin cells and causes inflammation (even if you use a sunscreen, it does not protect the skin 100 percent from UV rays). Damaged cells and inflammation are major causes of wrinkles and can increase one’s risk of developing skin cancer. The mineral selenium and vitamins A, C and E are thought to be particularly beneficial in skin health. According to Web MD, research has found that vitamin C, vitamin E and selenium can help protect the skin against sun damage and even reverse some of the wrinkles and discoloration associated with sun exposure and aging. In addition, topical retinoic acid — the active form of vitamin A — can help treat fine wrinkles, rough skin and age spots caused by sun exposure.

Antioxidants in the Diet

The best way to get antioxidants in the diet is to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables.

Foods high in vitamin C include citrus fruits and juices, strawberries, watermelon, cantaloupe, raspberries, papaya, pineapple, tomatoes, brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, bell peppers, kale, spinach and asparagus. Not only does vitamin C improve skin health due to its antioxidant properties, it is also needed for the production and maintenance of collagen, a protein that gives the skin its structure. In addition, it plays an important role in the immune system, which can help in the prevention of skin cancer, and it increases the benefits of vitamin E.

Foods high in vitamin E include liver, egg yolk, nuts and seeds, whole grains, leafy green vegetables, avocados, tomatoes, blueberries, papaya, mangoes and kiwi. Vitamin E is also an immune booster.

Foods high in vitamin A include calf’s liver, carrots, spinach, kale, turnip greens, bell peppers, sweet potatoes, apricots and cantaloupe. Vitamin A encourages tissue growth, helping the skin to repair itself, and also helps regulate the immune system.

Brazil nuts are an excellent source of selenium. However, you want to be careful to not eat too many because high levels can cause a condition called selenosis. Other foods containing selenium include tuna, beef, cod and turkey.

Antioxidant Supplements

Vitamin C is water-soluble so what the body does not need will be excreted through urine and the bowel. You can take more than what is recommended but amounts greater than 2,000 mg/day can lead to stomach upset and diarrhea.

Vitamins A and E are fat-soluble vitamins, meaning the body will store what it does not use. Therefore, you will want to be careful on the amount you take. Beta carotene, another antioxidant, is a safe alternative to vitamin A supplements because it converts to vitamin A in the body only when the body needs it. Smokers should avoid beta carotene supplements because it may increase the risk of lung cancer.

Selenium supplements are not recommended unless the person has certain medical conditions such as gastrointestinal disorders and iodine deficiency.

It is best to consult your health care provider before taking supplements, especially if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, are taking medications, are giving to a child or have a medical condition.

Topical Antioxidants for Skin Health

You can buy skin creams containing selenium and vitamins A, C and E. The more potent products will offer the best benefits. You can also buy sunscreens containing antioxidants for the skin.


Web MD: Beauty and Skin Care: Vitamins and Antioxidants -

Discovery Health: How do antioxidants affect the skin? -

National Institutes of Health: Selenium -

Photo by Icek-Blueyez / Flickr


Please read this disclaimer regarding the information contained within this article.