Do your eyes glaze over when you hear the term “amino acids?" Us too. But while they may not sound as sexy as CBD or activated charcoal, amino acids actually play a major role in the health of your skin. They keep skin firm and hydrated; protect against damage; reduce signs of aging; and improve healing—basically, all the things you want your skincare products to do.
Since you probably paid as much attention in science class as we did, let’s start with the basics.
What Are Amino Acids?
Amino acids are commonly referred to as the “building blocks of proteins,” which essentially means they join together to form different types of protein. Because they are key in just about every bodily process (from energy production to digestion), your body needs 20 of them to function properly.
These 20 often get split up into two main categories: essential and nonessential. Essential refers to the nine amino acids that your body can’t make on its own, meaning it’s essential (get it?) to get them from food (mostly animal proteins such as beef, poultry, dairy products, and seafood—but also some vegetables). Nonessential amino acids are ones your body produces itself.
How Do Amino Acids Benefit the Skin?
The skin contains three proteins—collagen, elastin, and keratin—which give it structure and keep it firm, tight, and supple. Considering those proteins, like all proteins, are made up of amino acids, it should come as no surprise that amino acids play a major role in keeping skin healthy and youthful looking.
While every amino acid has different benefits, these are the main ways they improve skin health:
- They help produce collagen and elastin, two key proteins that help keep skin firm.
- They help maintain hydration for plump, radiant skin that’s neither too dry nor too oily.
- They act as an antioxidant and protect against free radicals and UV damage.
- They reduce fine lines and wrinkles.
- They repair damaged skin and help you heal faster.
- They increase the skin absorption of other ingredients.
The Best Amino Acids for Skin Care
Before you freak out about having to memorize all 20 amino acids, keep in mind some work better than others. Look for these eight amino acids in your skincare products:
- Arginine, which may help the skin heal faster
- Glutamine, which may also improve the skin’s ability to heal wounds
- Glycine, which may help repair damaged tissue and speed up healing
- Histidine, which is an antioxidant that protects against free radicals, plus has anti-inflammatory properties to help soothe skin
- Leucine, which diminishes wrinkles when used with glycine and proline
- Lysine, which hydrates, helps produce collagen, and may treat cold sores
- Proline, which improves the appearance of crow’s feet when used with glycine and leucine
- Tyrosine, which helps other ingredients penetrate the skin
Many of these amino acids are more effective when they’re used with fellow AAs, so seek out products that combine several of them. Even better if they also contain complementary ingredients such as antioxidants and probiotics.
How to Use Amino Acids for Skin Care
Getting amino acids from the foods you eat or through supplements is great, but studies show applying them topically can make a big difference in your skin health. While amino acids show up in tons of different skin products, they’re most commonly found in eye creams and moisturizers, which means you don’t even need to add another step into your skincare routine.