Antioxidant – Does It Benefit our Child’s Skin?

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This post is part of an Eczema Kids’ Nutrition Series where MarcieMom looks at various food types and their impact on eczema children, with topics ranging from early introduction to elimination. Often, advice on kids’ nutrition, especially on eczema, varies and MarcieMom invites Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, a registered dietitian to help give her thoughts on this series written by MarcieMom.

More on Toby Amidor – Toby is the founder of Toby Amidor Nutrition where she provides food and nutrition consulting services. She is the Nutrition Expert for and Nutrition Advisor for Sear’s She is an adjunct professor at Teachers College, Columbia University.

What’s Antioxidant?

Before I go on, I have to give a spoiler that I don’t have the answer to whether it’s proven without a doubt that antioxidants can benefit the skin of our children with eczema. However, after researching this topic, I believe it’s beneficial to eat antioxidant-rich food, so let’s start by looking at what’s antioxidant!

Antioxidants are vitamins and nutrients, including Vitamin  A, C, E and selenium, that helps to protect our cells from the damaging effects of free radicals. Through our exposure to sun and digestion, free radicals (which are unstable molecules) form and they promote inflammation and damage skin cells. Antioxidants are able to inhibit oxidation and damage to the skin cells and speed up repair of the damaged cells.

Limited Resource on Impact on Skin

While there are many products that want us to eat antioxidant in the form of supplements or apply them onto our skin, I couldn’t find many studies in this area. There’s one research published in European Journal of Clinical Nutrition that linked increased intake of antioxidant (namely, beta-cartoene and Vitamin E) to reduced risk of atopic dermatitis in children. However, there’s another research that linked increased risk of skin cancer in women who took antioxidant capsules.

What are the Antioxidant Rich Foods?

Whole foods are recommended and foods rich in antioxidants are berries, beans, dark and orange vegetables. There’s an interesting WebMD article I’ve found that rank vegetables in terms of their antioxidant levels and most of them are higher in antioxidants after cooking! Some of these vegetables include spinach, potatoes and eggplants. Foods that are rich in Vitamin C, E and selenium include citrus fruits, red pepper, broccoli, whole grains, brazil nuts and turkey.

Another WebMD article stated that in terms of antioxidant creams, the concentration may be too low to be useful and potent creams ought to have 15-20% Vitamin C, 2-5% Vitamin E and 0.2-0.5% Selenium. Do note that Vitamin E is on the list of allergen, so do always test on a small patch of your child’s skin before using a cream with Vitamin E.

Toby’s Thoughts

MarcieMom: I’ve read that whole foods are preferred to supplements because the former contain enzymes that cannot be manufactured into a supplement. Is that true and can you share with us how enzymes help in the anti-oxidative process?

Toby: Whole foods are preferred over supplements because they contain phytonutrients, which are plant chemicals that have health benefits and can help protect against disease. Many of these phytonutrients have not been isolated into supplements, plus there is not enough research to know if they work well alone or in conjunction with other nutrients in the foods they are found in. For example, a phytonutrient called anthocyanin is powerful anti-inflammatory antioxidant found in berries. Studies show they may help lower the risk of some forms of cancer.

MarcieMom: Is it harmful to take an excess of antioxidants? Also for kids, would you recommend them taking a supplement, if yes, how many mg of different antioxidant should it contain? (If not, how to measure the amount of antioxidant rich food to give to our child?)

Toby: Taking in too many antioxidants can be harmful.  More is definitely not better and many of the antioxidants can potentially be toxic when taken in excess, especially through supplementation. Children should eat a well-balanced diet of whole foods including plenty of fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean proteins, nuts and seeds in order to get their daily dose of antioxidants.

MarcieMom: I’ve heard of machines that measure the antioxidant level of our skin. In general, does eating more anti-oxidant rich food means that our skin would have a higher level of antioxidants? And put in very layman terms, would the antioxidant cleverly know that the child has poor skin barrier and repair the skin as opposed to reducing the damaging effects of free radicals in the rest of the body?

Toby: I have not read studies with regards to antioxidant levels in the skin so I cannot respond to the question at this time. I would need to do further research.

MarcieMom: No worries Toby, drop me a comment should you have more information on this! Thank you.

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  1. I don’t particularly seek out antioxidant too, but I know there are quite a lot of products marketed (even for kids) through direct marketing. I think for us stressed parents who are time-strapped, it’d be first priority to focus on the essential skincare routine.

  2. Our bodies are robust biological systems that buffer our cells to maintain optimum salinity, pH, and oxidation potential. I think seeking out foods that some people claim to be “rich in antioxidants” is a waste of time. If you eat these foods, and if they actually do contain antioxidants that make it to your cells unmetabolized, your body will counteract their effect by adjusting the environment to be more oxidizing. That’s not to say you shouldn’t eat a variety of fresh fruits and veggies though: they provide vitamins and nutrients that your body can’t make by itself.