If you've been on social media in the last few years, you've seen the rise (and fall) of many popular ingredients in skincare and haircare. Yesterday's favorite may be old news today, so it can be difficult to pinpoint which ingredients remain must-haves when restocking your routine.
When it comes to tried and true ingredients that always deserve a place on your shelf, experts agree that antioxidants are beneficial for both skin and hair. With many pros, and few (if any) cons, "all hair types can likely benefit from the use of antioxidant haircare," board-certified dermatologist Brendan Camp, MD, says.
Meet the Expert
When it comes to understanding what exactly antioxidants are, trichologist Gretchen Friese puts it simply: "Antioxidants are substances that work to neutralize the harmful effects of the oxidation caused by free radicals in the body and/or on the hair. They help to prevent the formation of oxidative stress."
And while there are hundreds of different types of antioxidants, we spoke to the experts—Camp, Friese, and trichologist Helen Reavey—about the benefits of the top antioxidants found in your day-to-day haircare products. Read on to learn how antioxidants can transform your hair for the better.
Antioxidants for Hair
Type of ingredient: Protectors and neutralizers
Main benefits: Protect hair from UV and sun damage, help promote hair growth, increase blood circulation in the scalp, can help tame frizz, and fight free radicals
Who should use it: Generally, all hair can benefit from antioxidants. However, those with damaged hair will often profit from the use of antioxidants the most.
How often can you use it: Typically, antioxidants can be used daily when found in routine-use products such as shampoo and conditioner. When used as a mask, antioxidant products can be used one to three times per week according to Camp.
Works well with: Antioxidants work well with one another. Often, you'll find more than one antioxidant ingredient in your products., i.e. vitamins A, C, and E.
Don’t use with: Generally, antioxidants can be used with most ingredients.
Benefits of Antioxidants for Hair
Experts agree that the benefits of antioxidants for hair run deep (into the scalp). Given that antioxidants boost both skin and hair health, their benefits can be seen from root to tip. "There are many reasons consumers should be using antioxidants in their hair care routines," says Reavey.
"Most importantly, they are a key ingredient in having healthy hair follicles which leads to stronger and thicker hair," Reavey continues. "Similar to how antioxidants in our diet boost our immune system, using antioxidant-rich hair care products helps to boost the circulation in our hair follicles and feed our scalp nutrients so that the follicles don’t weaken over time, promoting healthy hair growth."
- Improve hair growth: The experts all note that antioxidants can help improve hair growth by boosting blood circulation and nutrient supply to the scalp, which in return encourages hair growth. In a 2021 study conducted by the Society of Cosmetic Scientists, results showed that when adding antioxidants to shampoo and conditioner, a group of subjects with thinning hair saw less shedding and more fullness, concluding that antioxidants were in fact successful in helping hair growth and retention.
- Protect hair follicles: Antioxidants are protective ingredients. "They neutralize free oxygen radicals, which are unstable oxygen molecules that develop as a result of the body’s normal metabolism, and exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation and environmental pollution," Camp explains. "Free radicals can damage cellular structures such as DNA, lipids, and proteins."
- Help reduce frizz: The effects of free radicals as mentioned above by Camp can also translate to dry, frizzy, brittle hair. Antioxidants help prevent these issues.
- Help prevent premature gray hair: "Antioxidants prevent the breakdown of melanin in the cortex of the hair strand which helps improve color retention and the integrity of hair," notes Friese. "Which means strong and healthy hair with possibly less graying."
- Relieve dandruff: Antioxidants can help with a variety of conditions including dandruff. Salicylic acid specifically works to dissolve dandruff and relieve the scalp.
Hair Type Considerations
If you're reading this, you're in luck: Antioxidants can generally benefit all hair types, experts say. "Antioxidants should be used by all hair types as we all need to protect our scalp and hair and fill it with nutrients," says Reavey. "But those [with] fine, weaker hair should pay more attention to this."
Given the benefits antioxidants have when it comes to protection—especially from UV radiation and free radicals—it's important to include them in your haircare regimens. But, as Reavey and the other experts mention, hair in need of some TLC, including dry, rough, frizzy, and damaged hair, will be especially grateful for the use of antioxidants. "Curly or kinky hair types can also benefit from antioxidants, as oxidative damage can lessen the tightness and bounce of curls," Camp adds.
How to Use Antioxidants for Hair
Lucky for us, antioxidants are found in so many day-to-day hair products that it typically does not take much effort to use them in our routines. "Antioxidants are found in shampoos, conditioners, styling products, serums, the list goes on," says Friese. "When shopping for products look for antioxidant ingredients and go forward with your regular routine. If you are going to DIY, make sure you are using things like carrier oils or creams as some antioxidants (vitamin E and rosemary oil for example) can be pretty powerful and cause irritation when used alone."
"Antioxidants can be added to nearly any kind of hair product, due to their water-based molecular structure," says Reavey. "Specifically, when used in shampoos and conditioners, antioxidants bind to the scalp and strands to create a protective layer, ensuring the ingredients are distributed throughout the follicles. In addition to incorporating antioxidant-rich products into shampoos and conditioners, they are also commonly used in leave-in treatments, hair oils, and styling products."
When it comes to application time, the experts agree that essentially any time is the best time. "Hair will benefit most from the application of antioxidants in the morning," says Camp. "This is because morning application prepares and protects the hair from free radical exposures that occur throughout the day. On the other side of the coin, antioxidants can be used at night, too, as some think that UV exposure during the day shortens the effect of antioxidants by accelerating their degradation."
Camp also notes that when looking for products that include antioxidants, it's important to know which antioxidants you are looking for. "Look for products that include antioxidants that can protect your hair. These include vitamins A, C, and E, selenium, polyphenols, and niacinamide."
Davis MG, Piliang MP, Bergfeld WF, et al. Scalp application of antioxidants improves scalp condition and reduces hair shedding in a 24-week randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Int J Cosmet Sci. 2021;43 Suppl 1:S14-S25. doi:10.1111/ics.12734