Alpha lipoic acid is an antioxidant found in every cell in the body as well as in some foods. It’s sometimes referred to as the “universal antioxidant because it regenerates or recycles other antioxidants like vitamin C, vitamin E, coenzyme Q10 and glutathione when they lose their ability to act as antioxidants. It also has the power to protect both cell membranes and the inside of cells against oxidative damage. Vitamin E is only effective at protecting cell membranes and other lipid-soluble structures from oxidative damage, and vitamin C only works well in a non-lipid environment. Alpha lipoic acid works well in both of these areas.
With its powerful antioxidant properties, it’s not surprisingly that alpha lipoic acid has been the focus of research. Studies have looked at its ability to ward off certain diseases and slow down the aging process. Preliminary research suggests it may be beneficial for preventing or treating diabetic nerve damage, glaucoma, heart disease, stroke and some types of degenerative brain diseases.
Alpha lipoic acid also has skin benefits. Not only is it a potent antioxidant, it has the power to fight inflammation. Inflammation can damage skin cells and cells that produce collagen and elastin that keep skin looking youthful. Oxidative damage is also one mechanism by which sunlight ages skin, and alpha lipoic acid helps to prevent this type of damage.
In a randomized, placebo-controlled study published in the British Journal of Dermatology, 33 women used a 5% alpha lipoic acid cream on one side of their face and a placebo cream on the other twice a day for 3 months. At the end of the 12-week period, there was a significant improvement in skin roughness and other signs of skin aging on the side treated with alpha lipoic acid compared to the side treated with a placebo. In addition, research in mice shows that alpha lipoic acid decreases skin redness after exposure to sunlight, suggesting it protects the skin against damage from sun exposure.
With results like this, it’s not surprising that cosmetic manufacturers are adding alpha lipoic acid to their skin care and anti-aging products. Alpha lipoic acid can be found in products like facial cleansers, moisturizers, eye creams and skin serums. It’s also available as an oral supplement. Some dermatologists also recommend creams containing alpha lipoic acid to patients after laser resurfacing to help reduce the redness and inflammation.
One question with anti-aging skin care ingredients is whether they penetrate skin deeply enough to be used skin cells. This isn’t an issue with alpha lipoic acid. It’s well-absorbed and able to enter skin cells without breaking down. Even though it’s absorbed well, it’s non-toxic in the amounts found in cosmetic products. The Environmental Working Group classifies it as a “low hazard” ingredient.
Some dermatologists recommend creams containing alpha lipoic acid to patients to treat fine line and wrinkles. It’s an alternative to prescription-strength retinoids that cause significant skin irritation, redness and peeling. Some people experience irritating and a tingling sensation when they first start using products that contain alpha lipoic acid, but this usually becomes less pronounced over time.
According to a study carried out in Brazil, products that contain alpha lipoic acid offer similar benefits to those containing glycolic acid, another anti-aging skin care ingredient that reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and improves skin texture. For people who have sensitive skin and are prone to redness and irritation, alpha lipoic acid may be a better choice than products contain glycolic acid because of its anti-inflammatory properties.
All in all, alpha lipoic acid is a strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory that has skin-rejuvenating benefits. Using products that contain 1 to 4% alpha lipoic acid regularly can improve rough, sun-damage skin and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. It has the advantage of being less irritating to sensitive skin than products containing glycolic acid and prescription-strength retinoids. Fortunately, manufacturers of skin care products are taking note and adding this antioxidant ingredient to their formulations.