GABA or gamma-aminobutyric acid is an amino acid produced naturally by the brain. Unlike other amino acids, which serve as the building blocks of proteins, GABA functions as a chemical messenger or neurotransmitter and is used to send signals throughout the body. The discovery of GABA did not occur until 1950, and investigation into the health benefits of GABA supplementation continues today. The ingredient is added to some foods and beverages, particularly in Japan. Foods and drinks that contain GABA are advertised as improving mood, reducing stress and heightening brain function. GABA has been used as an active ingredient in skin care products since about 2004.
In the body, GABA functions primarily as an inhibitor. When the brain releases GABA, the natural chemical travels through the bloodstream, signaling that other brain chemicals are no longer needed. This stops these other chemicals from acting on the body. As a result, GABA reduces excitement in the nervous system. Additionally, GABA helps to regulate muscle tone and triggers the relaxation of muscle tissue.
Because of the neurotransmitter's abilities to reduce the amount of activity in the nervous system, oral supplementation of GABA is sometimes prescribed by doctors to treat conditions that occur due to over-activity or dysfunction in the nerves and the brain. Medications also exist to increase the amount of GABA produced by the brain to treat such disorders. Among the conditions for which GABA is beneficial are seizures and depression.
The popularity of the clinical anti-aging treatment Botox is largely responsible for the introduction of GABA as an ingredient in skin care products. Botox is an injection that contains a toxin, which is related to the food poisoning bacteria that causes botulism. When injected into the muscles, Botox interferes with the surrounding nerves, preventing them from relaying messages to contract and release to the muscle tissue. As a result, the affected muscle becomes paralyzed.
When administered to areas on the face that are susceptible to wrinkling, such as the forehead, Botox prevents the skin from furrowing, making signs of aging less noticeable. Results from a Botox injection typically last for 3 to 4 months and then gradually disappear, returning the skin to its former state. Despite the temporary effectiveness of Botox injections, many people are squeamish about the idea of receiving a shot into their faces or another sensitive area of their bodies. Some people also have concerns that the paralysis caused by Botox makes the face not appear completely natural.
Concerns about Botox injections have led skin care companies to search for topical formulas that can function as alternatives to the shots. Because one of GABA's roles in the human body is to cause the release of muscles, it is possible that the neurotransmitter could produce similar results to Botox. A small number of skin care companies include GABA in their anti-aging skin care products for this reason; however, there is not enough research to suggest that GABA has the same effect upon muscle tissue when it is absorbed through the skin as it does when it is released by the brain.
Some products that contain GABA include additional anti-aging ingredients in their formulations. Among these are antioxidants, nutrients that help to prevent the oxidative damage that leads to the development of signs of aging. Studies also suggest that antioxidants can minimize signs associate with the aging process by making fine lines and wrinkles less deep and prominent. Skin care products that contain GABA and a powerful antioxidant like ibedenone may be more likely to produce desired results than formulas that contain the neurotransmitter alone.
The neurotransmitter has been shown to have anti-inflammatory potential. With its ability to reduce inflammation in the skin, GABA could be useful when added to products designed to reduce skin irritation or treat inflammatory skin disorders like eczema and psoriasis.
It has been established that the topical use of GABA is not harmful, and the natural chemical is not likely to cause any adverse or unwanted effects.