When it comes to cystic acne, we tend to focus on products that exfoliate dead skin, purge pores, and dry blemishes out, but managing acne goes beyond that — you need to choose ingredients that also prevent inflammation in the first place. One ingredient that often gets overlooked? Antioxidants. But recent studies have shown that these free-radical fighters can have a big impact on breakouts.
A quick refresher on antioxidants
For the uninitiated, “antioxidants work by scavenging free radicals before they can damage the skin,” explains New York City dermatologist Sejal Shah, M.D. They’re unique in that they can be used as both preventative and as a treatment. Some of the most effective include vitamins C and E, ferulic acid, resveratrol, quercetin, and polyphenols like green tea.
The free radical effect
Shah notes that while the triggers for acne may differ, how a breakout actually forms tends to follow one pattern. “All types of acne begin when the hair follicle gets clogged with oil and dead skin cells,” she says. “This block can lead to overgrowth of p. acne bacteria and inflammation.” As studies have shown, free radicals cause inflammation as well as increase the production of sebum (read: your skin’s natural oils) and keratinocytes (the skin cells lining your hair follicles), which can cause clogged pores and breakouts.
How antioxidants help cystic acne
In addition to neutralizing free radicals, “antioxidants have been shown to have antibacterial properties, so they can target p. acne bacteria,” says Shah. By adding antioxidants, you can squash multiple acne contributors at once, decreasing inflammation and keeping pores clear by making sure dead skin and oil don’t build up and trap bacteria.
Building your ideal routine
The good news is that antioxidants are beyond easy to incorporate into your regimen. Shah tells all of her acne patients to add an antioxidant treatment into their routine to get the best results. Look for formulas that are powdered and come in dark glass packaging—both help to keep the antioxidants at their max stability and potency, and therefore efficacy.