We continue our Skingredient series this week by turning our attention to alpha lipoic acid (ALA), which is commonly used in anti-aging skin care products. In this article, we’ll take a deep dive into the science behind this effective “anti-aging” ingredient to better understand the hype.
What Is Alpha Lipoic Acid?
Alpha lipoic acid is an antioxidant that is found in many foods and rich in flaxseed oil and chia seeds. It is essential for normal metabolism in the body but it has several other properties such as antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
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What Does Alpha Lipoic Acid Do?
To start, alpha lipoic acid has several beneficial skin functions. As an antioxidant, alpha lipoic acid is capable of neutralizing many of the damaging free radicals, including singlet oxygen, a molecule created by ultraviolet type A radiation. Alpha lipoic acid also has anti-inflammatory functions and can reduce the inflammatory signals that are released by skin cells. A molecule that is close in structure to alpha lipoic acid is dihydrolipoic acid (DHLA), which also acts as both an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent.
Clinical studies with alpha lipoic acid
Alpha lipoic acid has also been tested in several clinical studies. One clinical study looked at whether alpha lipoic acid could improve fine lines on the face. Study participants received both an alpha lipoic acid cream and a placebo cream and were asked to use one cream on half of their face and the other cream on the other half of their face. They were asked to continue applying the same cream on each side over the course of 12 weeks. The study was double-blind, which means that neither the researchers nor the study participants knew which cream was the alpha lipoic acid and which was the placebo until the study was completed and all of the data had been analyzed. The researchers found that using alpha lipoic acid based creams improved facial fine lines more than placebo after 12 weeks of use. Another alpha lipoic acid study similarly found that applying ALA improved the fine lines around the eyes and on the upper lips.
Easy on the skin
One reason that alpha lipoic acid is commonly used in skin care products is that it’s gentle yet effective. This is because it lacks acidity, which can cause skin irritation and inflammation when combined with other acidic ingredients. This gentleness makes alpha lipoic acid a particularly good ingredient for skin care products applied to the infraorbital area, which surrounds the eye. People who struggle with expression lines, crow’s feet, and skin laxity can see improvement when using an alpha lipoic acid eye cream both around their eyes and as a spot treatment for the common “parenthesis lines” around the lips and forehead.
Good for the lips
Alpha lipoic acid can also be found in many products specifically formulated for the lips. The mouth is constantly in motion, whether speaking, eating or yawning. So treating the skin on and around the lips with a product containing alpha lipoic acid will help to keep your lips looking youthful and smooth.
Depending on the concentration of alpha lipoic acid in your formulation, and the level of aging in the skin you are addressing, you may also want to look for a facial moisturizer that contains both alpha lipoic acid and some of our other favorite ingredients like vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin E. The combination of these ingredients allow for a multifaceted approach to pre-aging skin.
Potential Side Effects of Alpha Lipoic Acid
Topical alpha lipoic acid is generally well tolerated although in a few people it can lead to a feeling of warmth on the skin, stinging, or burning.
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Matsugo S, Bito T, Konishi T. Photochemical stability of lipoic acid and its impact on skin ageing. Free Radic Res.2011;45(8):918-924; PMID: 21651453 Link to research.
Fasano E, Serini S, Mondella N, et al. Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of selected natural compounds contained in a dietary supplement on two human immortalized keratinocyte lines. Biomed Res Int.2014;2014:327452; PMID: 25197638 Link to research.
Ho YS, Lai CS, Liu HI, et al. Dihydrolipoic acid inhibits skin tumor promotion through anti-inflammation and anti-oxidation. Biochem Pharmacol.2007;73(11):1786-1795; PMID: 17403519 Link to research.
Beitner H. Randomized, placebo-controlled, double blind study on the clinical efficacy of a cream containing 5% alpha-lipoic acid related to photoageing of facial skin. Br J Dermatol.2003;149(4):841-849; PMID: 14616378 Link to research.
Perricone NV. Topical 5% alpha lipoic acid cream in the treatment of cutaneous rhytids. Aesthetic Surgery Journal.2000;20(3):218-222; PMID: Link to research.