Antioxidants against clogged pores & acne

Amazing news: antioxidants in skincare can help reduce clogged pores & acne.

How do antioxidants work for pores & acne?

People prone to clogged pores and acne often have a different content of their skin sebum (compared to people without the acne issue). Acne-prone skin has a higher concentration of squalene oxides in sebum. Squalene oxides can easily clog pores.

Squalene oxides form because of free radicals (for example, from sun exposure). Antioxidants neutralize free radicals, and, as a result, less squalene oxides emerge. Less squalene oxides = less clogged pores and acne.

Antioxidants can also help decrease inflammation in active blemishes.

It is also possible that antioxidants might be even able to reduce sebum production in skin. But more research is needed to understand if it really works this way.

What type of antioxidants?

The most well-studied antioxidant that works against acne and clogged pores is Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate. It is a stable oil-soluble form of Vitamin C. Because it is oil-soluble, it can work inside the pores. It explains why it would be more effective than the "golden format" of Vitamin C, Ascorbic Acid (which is the most effective Vitamin C format against signs of aging & pigmentation). But there were no studies comparing the two for acne.

Compounds found in tea extract (for example, EGCG) are also shown to work in theory. Unfortunately, we do not have a good clinical trial that would confirm this for real life.

Based on the studies available, the best candidate is Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate. Look for a concentration of at least 5%. This is the concentration that was effective in clinical trials.

How well do they work?

If you use 5% Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate (SAP) as your only anti-blemish active, you can expect a noticeable, but modest improvement after 12 weeks (used daily). It is unlikely that you can completely solve your acne or clogged pores issue only with SAP.

It is best to think about SAP as a complimentary treatment for your main anti-acne regimen (that may, for example, include retinoids, niacinamide and azelaic acid). The good news is that SAP in this concentration rarely leads to skin irritation and can play well together with other actives.

If you use Benzoyl Peroxide, it is best to avoid applying SAP in the same step (instead, you can, for example, use SAP in the morning and BP in the evening).

SAP can also be a great active for keeping the pores clear and reducing occasional blemishes.

Product recommendations

Products with ≈ 5% Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate

Bubble - Day Dream
Price: $17
Key ingredients
  • Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate about 8% (estimated)
  • Niacinamide 2% (estimated)
  • Alpha Arbutin 1% (estimated)
  • Tranexamic Acid 1% (estimated)
  • Ceramides
What we like about it:

Great multi-tasking formulation with good concentration of actives.

Dr. David Jack - Good Morning Vitamin C Serum
Price: $101
UK & international shipping
Key ingredients
  • Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate 5% (estimated)
  • Potassium Azeloyl Diglycinate (derivative of Azelaic Acid) 4% (estimated)
  • Niacinamide 2% (estimated)
What we like about it:

Simple but effective formulation with minimal non-active ingredients.

Revolution Skincare - Dark Spot Corrector Serum
Price: $10.50
Key ingredients
  • Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate 4% (estimated)
  • Niacinamide 2% (estimated)
  • Salicylic acid 1% (estimated)
What we like about it:

The concentration of SAP is a bit lower than ideal, but it is still a good multi-tasking formulation for acne-prone skin - if you can tolerate 1% salicylic acid daily. Affordable price is a huge plus.

Mad Hippie - Vitamin C Serum
Price: $27
US, Canada, UK, Australia
Key ingredients
  • Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate 10% (estimated)
  • Oatmeal extract 5% (estimated)
What we like about it:

Unfortunately, contains citrus fragrance. If your skin isn't reactive though, 10% SAP at this price point is a rare find.