Cosmeceuticals: Vitamins & Antioxidants

By Pacific Derm on May 5 2013

This article is the second in a series on the world of cosmeceutical products, aimed to keep our patients better informed when shopping for skin products.(Read the first part here).

It seems that every cosmeceutical has at least one active ingredient claiming to do something wonderful for your skin. Below we’ve highlighted some of the more common vitamins that manufacturers are using in their product lines.


Antioxidants include:

  • vitamins (A, C and E)
  • alpha lipoic acid (ALA)
  • ubiquinone (coenzyme Q-10)
  • idebenone
  • polyphenols (i.e. catechins, flavenoids)
  • kinetin
  • thujaplicin
  • other botanicals such as teas, grapeseed and coffeeberry


These substances may protect your cells from damage caused by free radicals, molecules produced by your body when it breaks down food or through exposure to harmful environmental factors like tobacco smoke. Free radicals cause damage to cells, which can increase the risk of developing cancer, heart disease and other illnesses. Applying antioxidants on the skin may enhance the skin’s natural antioxidant protection system, prevent collagen depletion, reduce the appearance of dark spots, and protect against sun damage.

Vitamin A (Retinoids)

Retinoids are natural and synthetic derivatives of vitamin A and are one of the most common ingredients in cosmeceuticals. Retinoic acid (tretinoin), adapalene and tazarotene are types of vitamin A available only by prescription that are commonly used to treat acne. There has been substantial research supporting the benefits of retinoic acid, which is considered by dermatologists to be the most effective anti-aging ingredient. When tested on sun damaged skin, tretinoin has been shown to boost collagen production, resulting in smoother skin with less wrinkles.

Vitamin B3 (Niacin or Niacinamide)

There are several types of B vitamins, but all forms help to produce energy needed by the body, through converting food (carbohydrates) into fuel (glucose). Your body requires adequate amounts of B vitamins to maintain healthy skin, hair, eyes, and liver and nervous system function. Tests performed on some skin care formulations containing B vitamins have shown improvements in fine lines, wrinkles, dark spots, blotchiness, sallowness, oil production and irritation, as well as better skin barrier function by reducing moisture loss.

Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid)

One of the most popular ingredients added to skin care products, vitamin C claims to protect against and reverse the signs of aging. In reality, most formulations contain very low concentrations or have unstable formulations, so that it cannot by absorbed by the skin. In clinical studies, stable formulations have demonstrated protective properties such as reducing photoaging and promoting wound healing by stabilizing collagen, thereby improving skin regeneration.

Vitamin E (Tocopherol)

An antioxidant that is found naturally in the skin and in many foods, Vitamin E exists in eight different forms: four tocopherols and four tocotrienols. Of the four tocopherols, alpha-tocopherol is the most active form. Its use has been shown to protect against sun damage by reducing the number of sunburn cells. Though vitamin E is widely used in OTC products for scar treatment, research has been unable to confirm this therapeutic benefit.

Products backed by scientific research can be an effective part of a successful skin care routine providing visible results. Inquiring about testing and available evidence supporting ingredients will encourage you to make informed selections. Product lines that allow tailoring and selecting formulations specific to your skin type and preferences can help to maximize noticeable improvements.