Skip to main content

The Skincare Edit only recommends products we think you’ll love. If you buy something through our links, we may earn a commission.

Why You Need An Antioxidant Serum in Addition to Sunscreen

In 10 years, your skin will thank you.

You already know (I hope) that I highly recommend using sunscreen. I mean, duh! We've talked about how you've gotta re-apply it every two hours (and how to deal with that without messing up your makeup). And we reviewed some reasons why lots of peeps are digging mineral sunscreens these days—plus my new favourite prodz.

But this sunscreen post is going to be a little different... because I'm going to tell you about a little-known but exciting new way to super-size your sun protection. And no, I'm not talking about the new SPF 100 or 110 sunscreens. (The latter, by the way, only filter out 99.1 percent of UV rays compared to the 97 percent you get with SPF 30... so high-SPF products are not really worth it, in my humble opinion.)

No, what I want to draw your attention to, please, are antioxidants. You've heard the term before, I'm sure, and are vaguely aware that they are a good thing, right? But since most descriptions of antioxidants are mired in science-speak, you probably don't know exactly how they work, or how they can act as SPF insurance—that's right, INSURANCE—when you combine 'em with a daily sunscreen. AMIRITE? Luckily, I am here to act as beauty translator.


I'm not saying you're dumb, but like the great Seth Godin says in this excellent post (a must-read even if you don't write for a living like I do), clear and simple explanations are always best.

So here goes. Antioxidants protect you against the unstable molecules in your skin that produce oxidants. (Anti-oxidant—get it?) Another term for the evil oxidants is "free radicals," and what they do is speed up skin aging and DNA damage. You acquire them from exposure to sunlight (as well as smoke and air pollution), and they're the main culprits behind fine lines, wrinkles, sagging, discolouration... and even skin cancer.

So the antioxidants are the good guys, warding off the daily assault from free radicals that contribute to aging. Got it?


Here's the thing. For the longest time now, we've all been super-concerned about UV rays as the cause of these frickin' free radicals. That's why there's been so much talk about using a broad-spectrum sunscreen, which means that the product protects against UVA and UVB. (What's the diff? UVA is associated with tanning and photo-damage, while UVB is responsible for burning. BOTH can contribute to skin cancers.) Older-generation sunscreens used to only block UVB, but if you use sunscreen 2.0 ingredients like Helioplex and Mexoryl, and also zinc oxide, you'll be fine with both types of rays. To be sure, look for the words "broad-spectrum" on the label.

Anyway! That's all well and good, but guess what? A 2008 German study found that it's not just the UV rays that are a problem:

Infrared radiation—which we experience as the heat of the sun—may also release free radicals and accelerate aging.

That's like, major, dude. Even a broad-spectrum sunscreen can't do shiz about that.

And this is where antioxidants come in, because apparently they can ward off some of the damage by specifically hunting those free radicals down. It's a tag-team sort of thing: your antioxidant works together with your sunscreen to give you the maximum possible protection against sun-induced aging. In fact...


I'm not kidding! This factoid comes from SkinCeuticals consultant and founder Dr. Sheldon Pinnell, who was in Toronto a while back and mesmerized the entire Canadian beauty press with his wisdom. SkinCeuticals, as you may know, makes what I (and probably most derms) consider the best antioxidant serums on the market... but more on them in a sec.

Scroll to Continue

From The Skincare Edit Archives

The killer stat Dr. Pinnell cited was that once absorbed, an antioxidant can confer up to an SPF 5 or 8 protection—which can last for several days!

I think that's pretty freakin' cool, not because I'm implying that an antioxidant should replace your sunscreen, but because you'll automatically have some extra insurance against sun damage, no matter what. (Even if you forget to re-apply it every two hours.) Plus, antioxidants do all sorts of other great things for your skin, such as correcting damage and speeding up cell turnover.


I recommend serum formats, because unlike lotions or creams (which are bogged down by lots of other ingredients), serums tend to penetrate best into the skin. And you seriously need the best possible absorption in order to let the antioxidants do their job. (Plus, a serum is easy peasy to fit into your regular skincare regimen... it's not like you're adding a new layer of cream or lotion that'll potentially make your skin greasy or clog your pores.)

How do you apply an antioxidant serum? The morning is the best time to use 'em, and you should do it on clean, dry skin after you've washed your face. All you need are two to three drops, which you want to pat—not rub—into your skin. Then let it absorb for as long as you can, ideally about 10 minutes, before applying your moisturizer, sunscreen and makeup on top. You'll need to apply it every morning to keep up that SPF 8 insurance.


Lots of ingredients are considered antioxidants: vitamin C, vitamin E, green tea and coffeeberry are just a few. The problem is you need one(s) with the best chance of absorbing—and according to SkinCeuticals, those are what they use in these two prodz:

SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic has 15 percent L-ascorbic acid (a form of vitamin C), 1 percent alpha tocopherol and 0.5 percent ferulic acid. This is best for skin on the drier side—besides the photo-protection, it also helps with fine lines and wrinkles.

SkinCeuticals Phloretin CF has 2 percent Phloretin, 10 percent L-ascorbic acid and 0.5 percent ferulic acid. I reviewed it in this vid—this one is more for oilier skin and will also improve uneven skin tone and hyperpigmentation.

These ones are also great choices:

Vivier C + E Repairing Antioxidant Serum

Elizabeth Arden Prevage Advanced Anti-Aging Serum

Tell me:

Are you down with antioxidants?

Have you tried any of these prodz—or if not, are you inclined to do so now?

Do you think the topic of sun protection could possibly BE any more complicated? Honestly, I'm going to need to go back to school for a science degree just to keep up.