Antioxidants and Vitamins for Your Skin: Better on Your Face or In Your Diet?

Patient Expert

Each week, Health and Beauty Expert Sue Chung will discuss skin health topics suggested by members of the HealthCentral community. To ask Sue a question, send an email to

Reader's Question: I read that a lot of antioxidants and vitamins aren't really effective in skincare products. Will vitamin supplements do a better job?

Sue's Response: Antioxidants are everywhere these days. Some come in liquid form, others in pill form. They're added to food and water. Every day, new research is conducted on the beneficial health effects of antioxidants.

But how effective are antioxidants when it comes to improving the appearance and health of your skin? Most skin care products now boast that they contain a multitude of antioxidants guaranteed to make your skin softer, to clear acne and reduce wrinkles, age spots and pore size. Essentially, they claim that antioxidants can prevent and even reverse signs of sun damage in the skin.

The truth is, most topical skin care products do not contain the level of antioxidants needed to produce clear benefits for your skin. According to dermatologists, over-the-counter topical formulas only contain low concentrations of antioxidants and much of the antioxidants do not successfully absorb into the skin. In addition, antioxidants can be unstable in topical formulas and lose their efficacy quickly once you open the container.

The better way to get the antioxidants you need to bolster your skin's defense against sun damage is to supplement your diet with vitamins. Aside from drinking plenty of pomegranate juice and green tea, try adding the following vitamins into your diet to help improve the health of your skin:

Selenium is a mineral found in cereals, nuts and eggs. Some research studies have shown that dietary intake of selenium prevents cancer in laboratory animals. It also shows signs of enhancing the performance of chemotherapy and slowing down the aging process. In terms of sun damage, daily doses of selenium (The U.S. RDA of selenium is 55 micrograms) have demonstrated an ability to ease the burning effect of the sun's radiation in animals. Borba Skin Balance Confections offers a fun way to take selenium: Acai Skin Treatment Gummi Boosters.

Vitamin C, most famously found in oranges and other citrus fruits, helps repair your skin after sun damage and prevents signs of aging. While some studies show that topical application of vitamin C does help repair sun-damaged skin cells, this antioxidant is one of most unstable in topical formulas and degrades quickly once it gets exposed to oxygen. The U.S. RDA for vitamin C is about 75 milligrams per day, but those who smoke or live in big cities may require more. Many vitamin C supplements boast thousands of milligrams, but avoid ingesting more than 2,000 milligrams of vitamin C per day. Emergen-C sells powder packets with 1,000 milligrams of vitamin C that can be added to water.

Vitamin E is most commonly derived from vegetable oils, including sunflower, soybean and olive oils. Recent studies show that vitamin E acts effectively against free radicals and may lower the incidence of cancer. In addition, vitamin E is added to a variety of skin creams due its soothing effect on dry skin. Dermatologists recommend taking 400 milligrams of vitamin E daily in order to reduce the signs of photodamage in skin. GNC sells a vitamin that features all of these antioxidants: GNC Basic Antioxidant with Vitamins A, C, E, and Selenium.