Vitamin C is sort of the OG antioxidant: Not only is the Pinterest-trending compound found in a variety of skin-care products, but it's also naturally occurring in many foods and drinks—not to mention it's mom's cure-all for an old-fashioned cold. But the vitamin has some competition: A more under-the-radar, skin-boosting antioxidant, astaxanthin, is buzzing in the beauty world with the promise of a more youthful, glowing complexion.
"Astaxanthin can reverse the effects of UV exposure, improve wrinkling and decrease transpidermal water loss."
Though it's quite a mouthful, it has a slew of skin health benefits, according to Jaimie Glick, MD, a New York City dermatologist. "Astaxanthin is a very potent antioxidant that can inhibit oxidative stress and prevent cellular damage," says Dr. Glick. "[A 2017 study published in the journal PlosONE] showed that ingestion of astaxanthin can reverse the effects of UV exposure, improve wrinkling, and decrease transepidermal water loss." (That's just a fancy term for the amount of water that is able to make its way out of your skin, so it's often used as an indicator of skin health.)
What's more: It can be applied topically, too. Though, Ginger King, a New Jersey cosmetic chemist, says to get an even greater anti-aging, pro-hydrating effect you should ingest it as well as slather it on. "When it comes to beauty, it's always better to ingest and topically apply an active ingredient in tandem," she says.
What science still has yet to discover is whether astaxanthin has a more powerful effect when ingested or applied topically. "Since the human body works based on supply and demand," explains Ellen Marmur, MD a NYC dermatologist, "people who need to absorb more carotenoids from their diet will do so. But the skin may or may not absorb it superficially depending on its formulation."
To that effect, Glick notes that astaxanthin has poor water solubility and can be difficult to formulate topically. But King suggests that looking for the ingredient in a lipid base versus a water base. And remember it's an inside-out, outside-in beauty game for now.
Browse 3 astaxanthin buys for a glowier complexion below.
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