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Alpha Lipoic Acid and Skin Health

by
author image Elizabeth Adams Miller
Elizabeth Adams MIller worked for "The New York Times" for 10 years as a freelance reporter. Her specialties are investigative reporting, how-to articles on organic gardening and growing, and how-to articles on animals. She has extensive experience in all areas of media, newspaper, magazine, radio and television; she graduated from Merrymount Manhattan College.
Alpha Lipoic Acid and Skin Health
A mother wipes sunscreen on her daughter at the beach. Photo Credit Rayes/Photodisc/Getty Images

Alpha lipoic acid has been directly linked to skin care as a primary antioxidant that prevents aging and inflammation. Contained in many brands of skin products, this powerful metabolic natural substance has many benefits for skin care, including energy production in skin cells; regeneration of vitamins C and E; inhibiting of the activation of transcription factor NF-kB; reduction of cellular inflammation; stimulation of AP-1, which helps remodel collagen; and protection of the skin from free radical inflammation, including sun exposure.

Universal Antioxidant

Alpha Lipoic Acid and Skin Health
Fat Blaster Photo Credit Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of Jessica Merz

The metabolic antioxidant alpha lipoic acid is often called "the universal antioxidant" because it is soluble both in water and in fat. It is 400 times stronger than vitamins E and C combined. What is perhaps the most valuable property of this substance is its ability to penetrate the skin's surface and the skin cell membrane. Consequently, alpha lipoic acid benefits both the inside and outside of the skin cell.

The production of energy in an enzyme system is called the quruvate dehydrogenase complex, a process which produces energy. The higher the energy levels of a cell, the more youthful the skin remains. In this way, alpha lipoic acid aids cellular metabolism in addition to protecting the skin against free radicals.

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Healthy Fat Protection

Alpha Lipoic Acid and Skin Health
Exfoliating Properties Photo Credit Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of Martin Terber

Polyunsaturated fats, the healthy kind that skin needs to remain young-looking, is protected from free radicals by alpha lipoic acid, which captures the free radicals before they have a chance to enter the cell plasma membrane. This process prevents a very dangerous formation of oxidized fats called lipid peroxides, which damage DNA and activate NF-kB, a proinflammatory cursor to cytokines, such as tumor nectosis factor alpha and interleukins. This kind of deadly damage to DNA transcription, or allowing DNA to give instructions to the cell, is to be avoided at all costs.

Cosmetic Properties

Alpha lipoic acid also has the ability to smooth skin by increasing its exfoliating capacity, or the removal of dead skin cells from the skin's surface. In addition, this potent little antioxidant regulates the production of oil glands, as under or overproduction can clog pores. It also helps with puffy eyes and helps reduce lines and wrinkles. Skin color is enhanced, and pore size is minimized to give the skin a more polished look. Lastly, alpha lipoic acid was shown to decrease scar tissue in a study performed by Dr. David Genecdov of the International Craniofacial Institute in Dallas, Texas.

Dr. Nicholas Perricone recommends taking alpha lipoic acid internally at the rate of 300 milligrams per day and applying it topically on the face and body. A myriad of skin lotions and creams is available, both in department stores and in health food stores. Often, creams and lotions are sold with alpha lipoic acid in combination with vitamin C Ester and DMAE, a neurochemical that has a tightening effect on the skin.

History and Misconceptions

Alpha Lipoic Acid and Skin Health
Health Benefits Photo Credit Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of Craig Keeling

In the cells of the body, alpha-lipoic acid is converted into dihydrolipoic acid. Alpha-lipoic acid is not the same as alpha linolenic acid, which is an omega-3 fatty acid that contributes to the health of the heart.

Scientists first discovered the relevance of alpha-lipoic acid in the 1950s, and recognized it as an antioxidant in 1988. According to the University of California at Berkeley's Wellness Guide to Dietary Supplements, alpha-lipoic acid acts as an antioxidant only when there is an excess of it and it is in the "free" state in the cells. There is little free alpha-lipoic acid circulating in your body, unless you consume supplements or get injections.

Additional Benefits

Alpha lipoic acid is said to prevent or treat many age-related diseases, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

Research on alpha lipoic acid is just getting started. Not enough is known now to recommend alpha lipoic acid. Consult your doctor about recommended daily levels and how this antioxidant will benefit you.

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