Just when you thought sunscreen was enough! You actually need this too—and seriously, in 10 years your skin will thank you

perfect skin

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?


applying sunscreen Just when you thought sunscreen was enough! You actually need this too—and seriously, in 10 years your skin will thank you

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.

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.


woman applying serum1 Just when you thought sunscreen was enough! You actually need this too—and seriously, in 10 years your skin will thank you

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 C E Ferulic Just when you thought sunscreen was enough! You actually need this too—and seriously, in 10 years your skin will thank you

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.

SkinCeuticals Phloretin CF Just when you thought sunscreen was enough! You actually need this too—and seriously, in 10 years your skin will thank you

These ones are also great choices:

Vivier C + E Repairing Antioxidant Serum

Vivier C + E Repairing Antioxidant Serum Just when you thought sunscreen was enough! You actually need this too—and seriously, in 10 years your skin will thank you

Elizabeth Arden Prevage Advanced Anti-Aging Serum

Prevage Advanced Anti Aging Serum Just when you thought sunscreen was enough! You actually need this too—and seriously, in 10 years your skin will thank you

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.


Wednesday, June 29/2011 at 4:10 pm

Wow. This blog is turning into my wallets worse nightmare.

Plus are any of these things available in the UK? And at what sort of price range, since it sounds like a good investment, but I’m not exactly making a steady flow of income at the moment.

Huge fan, fellow blonderexic Thomas xx


Wednesday, June 29/2011 at 9:59 pm

Like Thomas, I’m wondering about more budget-friendly serums. I’d love to be to splurge on the best (since it’s an investement in how my skin will look for decades to come), but $160 is a lot of money when one has student loans to pay off. ;p


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Friday, July 15/2011 at 7:04 pm

I hear you guys! This is definitely a pricey beauty category. I’m not convinced that there’s much at the lower end of the scale that’s going to work (i.e. penetrate) as well. That’s the reason why SkinCeuticals is so praised by derms… it’s one thing to be able to list vitamin C or whatever in your product, but another to have the technology to make it go into the deeper layers of your skin.

Still – I read some reviews online and have been hearing good things about this one from Juice Beauty. It’s under $50:


Wednesday, June 29/2011 at 5:07 pm

I haven’t tried any of the products shown- but I’ve been using Avalon Organics Vitamin C Vitality Facial Serum for the past few months, and I think I like it…… It’s not a product that’s changed my life or anything. But I’m pregnant right now and currently have the best skin of my life, so it’s really hard to compare my pregnant glowing, clear skin vs my normal- acne prone, oily, non-radiant skin. I’ve read a lot about the benefits of Vitamin C and collagen production and I feel like it’s an important ingredient for a daily routine. I like to use Canadian, organic, and vegan products whenever possible, which is why I like Avalon- but Skinceuticals seems pretty appropriate for me for after I give birth and I go back to my usual oily acne skin and need more hard-core help!


Thursday, June 30/2011 at 11:38 am

Hi Lisa, Where did you get this in Canada? I would love to try a serum, but have fussy, fussy skin to contend with, and sounds like it might pass the test! Thanks!


Thursday, June 30/2011 at 12:29 pm

I live in Toronto and I get it at a health food store called Essence of Life.

I think you can buy it online though! Here’s their website: http://www.avalonorganics.com/


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Friday, July 15/2011 at 7:09 pm

Well.ca sells it: http://well.ca/products/avalon-organics-vitamin-c-vitality_10416.html?affid=BEAUTY. Free shipping in Canada with no minimum order!


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Friday, July 15/2011 at 7:08 pm

Oh nice reco! Thanks Lisa. I actually have used it, a few years ago, and remember liking it.

The Phloretin CF would be great post-pregnancy if your skin is on the oily/acne side. Oh and cod liver oil too of course! (You’ve seen that post, right?)


Wednesday, June 29/2011 at 11:24 pm

I swear by Skinceuticals (I use their daily moisture lotion, B5 Hydrating gel, and phyto+…I just converted my mom to them by getting a sample of the Phloretin CF). My mom even told me recently that my dad (totally oblivious) said that her skin looked great, but he couldn’t put a finger on what it was… Haha, dads.


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Friday, July 15/2011 at 7:09 pm

It totally works, right? I’m a believer. I have the B5 gel as well as masque and LOVE them. Had a bottle of the Phyto years ago as well (that’s the green stuff, right?) and it was also amazing. Can’t say enough good things!


Thursday, June 30/2011 at 12:40 am

I make my own C-ferulic-phloretin serum with those ingredients, plus a bit of hyaluronic acid, distilled water and alcohol. I order the raw ingredients from Skin Actives. Each bottle I mix up costs me a tiny fraction of what the Skinceuticals serum does. I strongly recommend people check out sites like Skin Actives, Lotion Crafter, Bulk Actives, The Personal Formulator, etc. because you can buy raw materials for your own skin care products for much much less than what the big manufacturers charge. And it’s fun to mix up your own stuff! I add all kinds of actives – EGF, peptides, Niacin, etc – to very basic creams to suit my own needs.


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Friday, July 15/2011 at 7:10 pm

Oh wow, impressive! I’m making a note of those sites – very interesting that you get the ingredients raw. Have you ever thought of selling your own line?


Nomadic D
Thursday, June 30/2011 at 2:23 am

Fascinating. I knew anti-oxidants were good for your skin, but the bit about it giving you natural spf was totally news to me! Great article!



Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Friday, July 15/2011 at 7:11 pm

It’s neat huh? Just as long as everyone is clear it’s not meant as a substitution for SPF… just an insurance policy :-)


Thursday, June 30/2011 at 10:17 am

How do you feel about the Ole Henrikson’s Truth Serum? I think it has Vit. C and Green Tea (if I’m not mistaken)…But it’s in a clear bottle. Doesn’t Vit.C need to be stored in a special container (like all the products you mentioned above) to prevent damage from light? I’ve been using it for about 2-3 months and I’m just not sure if its DOING anything special other than a little extra hydration.

Might give skinceuticals a try once my bottle is empty.


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Friday, July 15/2011 at 7:13 pm

Oh yeah! Is that the one that smells like fresh oranges? If so then I remember liking it… but yeah, can’t say I noticed any changes in my skin. You are correct about the dark bottles.


Thursday, June 30/2011 at 10:49 am

Love antioxidents! I’ve been using the Skin Ceuticals Phloretin CF for months now and it’s made a great difference. I’ve run out though, so I’ll have to restock! Expensive, but well worth it. I don’t mind spending a lot of money on skin care – you only have one face, treat it nicely!


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Friday, July 15/2011 at 7:13 pm

Yay! What changes have you noticed?


Thursday, June 30/2011 at 2:17 pm

Hi, I mix in philosophy’s vitamin C powder into my moisturizer everyday, and it is amazing. protects my skin completely.


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Friday, July 15/2011 at 7:15 pm

That sounds cool. I’m so out of the loop on what Philosophy is doing these days. They’re having a beauty editor event soon (for the first time in my entire beauty career actually) so I can’t wait to find out more about their skin line!


Chelsea C
Thursday, June 30/2011 at 2:57 pm

This is a great serum too…..Mela D by La Roche-Posay.


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Friday, July 15/2011 at 7:17 pm

Agree but unless I’m mistaken it’s more for pigmentation issues… you don’t get the antioxidant benefits.


Chelsea C
Friday, August 26/2011 at 6:04 pm

Correct. I have an antioxidant serum from Pur Minerals that I have yet to use. I wonder can I apply one on top of the other. Do you have a resource that you can refer to me that lists which ingredients can not be mixed together/applied on top of each other, as I don’t want to do something that would just cancel the products out/change the properties of said products and/or change the efficacy of the product. I apologize if you have already covered this and I missed it. p.s. I just returned from the lake in Saskatchewan where there was no internet so I missed a lot of your posts. I am in the process of catching up. :~)


Thursday, June 30/2011 at 6:58 pm

I read the first half of this post expecting it to be about blueberries or some other kind of food, haha. If only eating blueberries could give me SPF 8!


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Friday, July 15/2011 at 7:20 pm

Haha! Actually there’s probably a bit of truth to that… I wrote a story on berries and skincare a couple of years ago, for ELLE. I think there is a connection!


Monday, July 4/2011 at 1:27 am

You learn something new and valuable everyday!!! Great post :)


Wednesday, July 6/2011 at 4:17 am

Just make sure whatever antioxidant serums you’re using don’t have Vitamin A, which is also an antioxidant, but also makes you MORE sensitive to the sun, hence sun damage!!!


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Friday, July 15/2011 at 7:21 pm

Good point! I need to do a post on the vitamin A thing. There is some info here for anyone reading: http://breakingnews.ewg.org/2011sunscreen/sunscreens-exposed/sunscreens-exposed-9-surprising-truths/


Tuesday, July 12/2011 at 8:32 pm

I agree with Melissa — love Philosophy’s Turbo Boost Vitamin C powder, it’s a miracle! Caudalie’s Vinoperfect Radiance Serum is a wonderful serum and a powerful antioxidant as well (62x more powerful than Vitamin C — it absorbs quickly, leaves skin matte and helps minimize and fade spots). Lastly, an affordable alternative is using light dabs of virgin cold-pressed rosehip oil mixed with thermal water on your skin to even out skintone, gradually fade away acne spots, brighten skin and reduce signs of aging and dryness! Kosmea, Trilogy and Divine Essence make great ROH vials that are skinsavers and worth looking into!


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Friday, July 15/2011 at 7:24 pm

Wow! I’m not familiar with Caudalie at all but that sounds amazing.

I’ve used Kosmea rosehip oil in the past… unfortunately just too heavy for my skin but I agree with you in theory! I would just be careful if acne-prone.


Friday, July 22/2011 at 3:10 am

Epi-Elegance has the same type of serums but are less toxic than the ones on here, according EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Database. Go ahead and compare them on the site. I often look up products and ingredients on the site because you want to make sure the product has both benefits, but most importantly, ingredients that are less toxic. Some chemicals react with the sun or alone can cause cancer among other things. I will give the Epi-Elegance serums a try, they have the C and a red tea which is supposedly better than green tea.


Ana P
Friday, August 26/2011 at 2:59 pm

Oh gosh. How I would love to purchase the Skinceuticals. How long does it last would you say? I think I’m going to purchase one by Boske Dermaceuticals at $57/.5oz. The ingredients seem similar, albeit not in the same order. Do you think it’s worth it or would this be stronger?


Tuesday, September 27/2011 at 1:02 pm

Go to cosmeticscop.com for lots of info about skin and how it works, including these serums. The Paula’s Choice ones are amazing and reasonably priced. Paula Begoun has been researching and writing about cosmetics and skin care for years. She wrote the series of books called “Don’t go shopping for skin care products without me”. She is regularly on TV (ie Oprah and Dr Oz) and radio shows in the US and Canada.
You can go to beautipedia.com for reviews and advice on all types of skin care and makeup.
There is no need to spend excessive amounts on good skin care.


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Monday, October 3/2011 at 6:01 pm

I agree with a lot of what Paula says but I also take it with a grain of salt as she has completely trashed some of my favourite products! :-) Plus she does market her own skincare line so that’s kind of a conflict of interest. The basic skincare info on her site is good but I find the books quite out of date even when you look at the supposedly latest editions.


Thursday, October 6/2011 at 9:10 pm

THis is an excellent post!


Tuesday, November 8/2011 at 12:08 pm

How does Cellex-C rank among these vitamin C serums?


Chelsea C
Friday, November 11/2011 at 2:52 pm

Does anyone know where to purchase SkinCeuticals in Canada? I’m in the Vancouver area


Chelsea C
Friday, November 11/2011 at 3:00 pm

I was in Sephora last night and was very interested in the line by Ole Henrikson. Has anyone tried his serums? Thoughts?


Thursday, March 1/2012 at 2:52 pm

I’m an aesthetician and my clients swear by the Phloretin CF. One of them ( a redhead ) swore she didn’t get any new freckles last summer at the pool with her son from using it.
It’s all about prevention and the old saying an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.


Thursday, April 4/2013 at 8:17 am

Prevage is the best thing that’s ever happened to my skin!!! :D


Monday, June 24/2013 at 1:06 am

Nice! I actually know another product filled with antioxidants that I really love!!!


Friday, October 4/2013 at 1:26 pm

I’m really fond of Mad Hippie’s Vitamin C serum. It has a more stable form of vitamin C than L-ascorbic acid, in addition to containing ferulic acid, vitamin E and hyaluronic acid. Plus, I was able to find it on Amazon for US $24.


Wednesday, February 12/2014 at 5:11 pm

Wow seriously? This is ridiculous. Hello people: you only have to eat healthy, foods that are notoriously high in antioxidants include beans and berries. Why would you spend so much money on MORE beauty products when your body needs these nutrients anyways….


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