Do Skin Care Products with Antioxidants or Brighteners Benefit Your Skin?

Health Writer

As we age, our skin ages — sometimes gracefully and sometimes not so much. Wrinkles, fine lines, and discoloration are all a part of the aging process. A number of skin care products claim to reduce the effects of aging, but are they effective? Here we look at antioxidants and brighteners.


Our skin contains antioxidants that seek out free radicals, which are particles in our skin that cause damage, most often because of ultraviolet light exposure, air pollution, and cigarette smoke. Antioxidants are our defense against skin damage and when there is minimal damage, they can usually keep up. But when damage is severe, such as a sunburn or chronic exposure to pollutants, the antioxidants can’t keep up, according to a report published in theJournal of American Academy of Dermatology (JAAD). These important skin protectors must be replenished through the foods we eat, supplements, and topical applications.

We get antioxidants through vitamins E and C. Foods that help replenish antioxidants include fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and green tea. While the benefit from antioxidants through food is accepted, there is some question as to how it is absorbed through the skin when used topically. Some of the concerns include how to keep the antioxidants stable in skin care products, how much is effective without being irritating, and how the antioxidants are absorbed into the skin. The report in JAAD sums it up by saying: “Photoprotective properties, both orally and topically, are supported but the ideal delivery system has yet to be determined.”

Ongoing research seeks to figure out how to best integrate antioxidants into skin care products. Traditionally, plant material — especially from berry and soy plants —  used to add antioxidants is taken from plants that are grown outdoors. These plants could have been exposed to pesticides, heavy metals, and fungal toxins, according to a news release from the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). Researchers are looking at using plant stem cells that can be sterilized and used safely in skin care products. The researchers also want to determine how to control the concentration of antioxidants as a strong concentration in products can cause skin irritation.

Today, there are many products on the market that indicate they contain antioxidants. It would be prudent to try these products on a small patch of skin on your arm for several weeks to make sure they don’t cause irritation. Make sure your diet includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains to resupply your skin with antioxidants. And always practice sun safety by using sunscreen, avoiding direct sunlight between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., and wearing protective clothing when you’re in the sun.

Skin brighteners

Skin brighteners work to lighten the skin. Age and sun exposure can cause brown spots. Other skin conditions, such as melasma, also can increase pigment in certain areas. Scars from acne and other skin blemishes can cause a darkening of the skin. Skin brighteners work to lighten the skin and make these spots less noticeable. They can also be used by people who want a lighter or brighter complexion.

According to, hydroquinone is usually the main ingredient but there are concerns that this may increase skin-cancer risks because it can increase photosensitivity. Another possible side effect of hydroquinone is its connection to ochronosis, which causes the skin to thicken and turn bluish-gray. It is also harmful if inhaled. Hydroquinone has been banned from cosmetics in the European Union and limited for use in Canada. In the United States, directions on the product must indicate that it should not be left on the skin.

A study looking at the safety of a hydroquinone-free skin brightener found that a specially formulated complex for brightening skin without the hydroquinone was effective and well tolerated throughout the entire 24 weeks of the study.

Some skin brighteners include glycolic acid, which can make skin more sensitive to the sun and, in turn, can increase sun damage. When using skin brighteners, it is important to look at the ingredients and follow directions included with the package. It would also be prudent to discuss these products with your dermatologist first to determine their safety.

See more helpful articles:

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Antioxidants and Vitamins for Your Skin

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Top Skincare Products for Face and Skin

5 Common Skin Care Myths Debunked