UV rays, blue light, environmental pollution, questionable lifestyle choices… Our skin is under attack by multiple sources of free radicals all day, every day. And while sunscreen is a basic line of defense against external aggressors, antioxidants are key responders when it comes to preventing skin damage caused by oxidative stress on the outside and in.
What are free radicals?
Scientifically speaking, these are naturally-occurring, unstable and highly reactive molecules that latch onto and steal electrons, such as healthy cells, ultimately causing a breakdown in DNA of the skin. External factors trigger and increase their production. More often than not, the damaged cells are those responsible for the natural production of collagen, elastic and hyaluronic acid—all of which form skin’s structure and firmness—and the depletion of this can lead to signs of ageing like fine lines, sagging, dullness and even pigmentation. Just think of a cut apple that’s been left out in the air—that wrinkled discolouration is a result of oxidation caused by free radicals. And the same effects can happen to our skin.
Antioxidants to the rescue
While you can’t avoid free radicals entirely, there is a way to counteract their effects—with antioxidants. These atoms have the ability to neutralise free radicals, returning them to balance before they harm your cells and suck the life out of your skin. And the go-to all-rounder ingredient we love? Vitamin C. “It is one of the most studied, and one of the most powerful antioxidants available”, advises Dr. Sylvia Ramirez, the medical and scientific director of Cutis Medical Laser Clinics in Singapore. “Vitamin C protects the skin from damage from free radicals, most notably from UV rays and pollution. Topical application of vitamin C, alone or in combination with other compounds, may result in greater photoprotection than oral supplementation because of the more direct route of administration. It also plays a significant role in the collagen synthesis process, and helps to thicken skin and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. It can also help brighten the skin by acting as a depigmenting agent”.
Also known as L-ascorbic acid, tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate, and THD ascorbate, this water-soluble vitamin is considered an anti-ageing superstar for all skin types. Here are some of our new and perennial favourites:
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For clogged, lacklustre skin: Ole Henriksen's Banana Bright Vitamin C Serum
According to beauty guru, Ole Henriksen, vitamin C is the skincare hero that not only guards skin from harmful aggressors from the inside out, but also has the power to strengthen, soothe and keep skin hydrated and radiant too. Ticking all those boxes and more is his Banana Bright Vitamin C Serums, which seeks to instantly brighten, plump, hydrate and lighten blemishes with a key trio of ingredients: 15 percent vitamin C (or Ethyl Ascorbic Acid, to be precise), a powerful antioxidant that illuminates skin, reduces dark spots and discolouration, and helps to boost collagen and elastic production for firmer miens; five percent PHAs (or Polyhydroxy Acids, a newer alternative to AHAs) that work by chemically exfoliating dead skin cells on the surface for a more even skin tone and texture, and aids in better, deeper skincare absorption thus boosting efficacy of products; and hyaluronic acid to keep skin comfortably hydrated and plump. This orange elixir also comes dosed with vitamin E, which nourishing the skin and helps to further stabilise the vitamin C, as well as Banana Powder-inspired pigments, which helps to colour correct and turn up that glow.
Ole Henriksen Banana Bright Vitamin C Serum, $96 for 30ml; available at Sephora
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For normal to combination skin: Sunday Riley C.E.O Rapid Flash Brightening Serum
This hydrating antioxidant serum is supercharged with what’s touted as the gold standard of vitamin C: THD Ascorbate, which converts to L-ascorbic acid upon contact with your skin, helping to fight the first and visible signs of ageing caused by pollution, stress and sun damage. Then enters a soybean-derived phytosterols complex to help reduce redness and skin sensitivity, while saccharide isomerate extract and glycolic acid work to reinforce the skin’s natural moisture barrier and refine texture, for smoother, suppler skin that’s boosted from within.
Sunday Riley C.E.O Rapid Flash Brightening Serum, $128 for 30ml; available at Sephora
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For dull, uneven skin: Allies of Skin Vitamin C+ 35% Perfecting Serum
Housed in an airtight bottle is the world’s first and only waterless formula with 35 percent concentration of vitamin C. Potent but gentle and ultra stable, this viscous, oil-like serum ticks all the glow-boosting boxes with 25 percent ethylated l-ascorbic acid and 10 percent tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate; as well as a next-generation antioxidant complex with superoxide dismutase and glutathione that amplify the all-round rejuvenating benefits. Think visible brightening and the evening of skin tone thanks to better collagen production and cellular repair, while it empowers skin to shield itself against photo-ageing damage, pollutants and inflammation over time.
Allies of Skin Vitamin C+ 35% Perfecting Serum, $175 for 30ml; available at Sephora
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For fatigued skin: Dr. Dennis Gross C+ Collagen Brighten & Firm Vitamin C Serum
Skin’s flow and function can be disrupted by ageing and environmental damage. This gel-serum recharges skin with a blend of antioxidants, starting with 3-O-ethyl ascorbic acid, the most effective stabilised form of vitamin C, to help minimise and prevent the appearance of hyperpigmentation, fine lines and wrinkles. Then enters an invigorating Energy Complex, featuring CoQ10, superoxide dismutase, carnitine and all-rounder niacinamide to further maximise the effects of vitamin C, and boost cellular metabolism and protect the cells. All that, topped off with plant-based collagen that contribute to strengthening skin’s structure for brighter, tighter miens.
Dr. Dennis Gross C+ Collagen Brighten & Firm Vitamin C Serum, $115 for 30ml; available at Sephora
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For dry or dehydrated skin: Peter Thomas Roth Potent-C Power Serum
With antioxidant powers as rich as its moisturising prowess, this luscious elixir packs a 20 percent THD ascorbate—an ultra-stable, breakthrough ingredient that’s 50 times more potent than traditional vitamin C. It’s rejuvenating, firming and brightening capabilities are then further enhanced by three percent vitamin E and two percent ferulic acid, fellow antioxidants that have been scientifically proven to support each other synergistically for amplified benefits when combined, while hyaluronic acid works on attracting and retaining hydration within the skin.
Peter Thomas Roth Potent-C Power Serum, $149 for 30ml; available at Sephora
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For blemish- or acne-prone skin: Skinceuticals C E Ferulic
Call it masterful formulation or skincare sorcery, but this cult favourite serum has remained the dermatologist and beauty insider favourite for years despite other brand’s launching similar formulas with identical ingredients. What sets it apart is that this tried-and-tested elixir effectively clears skin with minimal to no irritation, which can be rare with high concentrations of vitamin C—in this case, 15 percent L-ascorbic acid, its purest form. The addition of one percent vitamin E and 0.5 percent ferulic acid not only improves its stability, but also helps it reach its full potential, combining conditioning, anti-inflammatory properties with potent regeneration boosters that help to stimulate collagen growth, fade hyperpigmentation and renew overall skin tone.
SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic, $248 for 30ml; available at Lazada
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For sensitive skin: Avène A-Oxitive Antioxidant Defense Serum
For many other vitamin C formulas, it would be advised to start at a low concentration and build a healthy tolerance from there. This serum with 15 percent vitamin C, however, has been carefully formulated by the sensitive skin experts at Avène Dermatological Laboratories to work peacefully with temperamental, compromised complexions. Its lightweight texture is easily absorbed, delivering a gentle but potent Antioxidant Shield Complex of pro-vitamins C and E to help combat visible signs of ageing over time. All this is combined naturally soothing Avène Thermal Spring Water, and a proprietary cell energiser that work in tandem to provide 24-hour hydration and stimulate skin’s natural turnover and defense mechanisms against harmful oxidative stress, repairing it from within while also arming it for the future.
Avène A-Oxitive Antioxidant Defense Serum, $79.90 for 30ml; available at Shopee
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For pigmentation-prone skin: Klairs Freshly Juiced Vitamin C Drop
This antioxidant-packed solution amplifies the brightening capabilities of five percent vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid) with Centella Asiatica, a plant-derived ingredient loved for its skin-soothing effects. So not only does this calm inflammation, repair skin damage, and fade brown spots and hyperpigmentation, it also fortifies complexions against environmental aggressors for stronger, brighter and clearer skin in the long-run. Plus, this features Dear, Klairs’ Hybrid Stabilization Technology that equips this drugstore-favourite with better shelf life compared to traditional vitamin C formulas.
Dear, Klairs Freshly Juiced Vitamin C Drop, $28.90 for 35ml, available at Guardian