Amino acids, the building blocks of all proteins, are absolutely essential to skin’s health. In order to stay youthful, skin needs certain nutrients that allow it to maintain its structure and systems of self-repair.
Vital components of life, amino acids contribute to cellular metabolism and can act as chemical messengers. Trying to keep skin strong without amino acids is like trying to build a house without any wood: it’s not going to stay standing for long! A proper balance of amino acids allows skin to stay healthy and glowing.
There are twenty major amino acids that are necessary to human health: arginine, lysine, aspartic acid, glutamic acid, glutamine, asparagine, histidine, serine, threonine, tyrosine, cysteine, tryptophan, alanine, isoleucine, leucine, methionine, phenylalanine, valine, proline, and glycine.
The body can synthesize most of these acids on its own, but nine (the “essential” amino acids - shown in bold in the list) have to be ingested through food. Soybeans, tuna, eggs, quinoa, and hummus are all great sources of essential amino acids.
These vital building blocks also have a valuable role in beauty, for both skin and hair care.
Amino acids are a crucial part of the process of creating collagen, fibrinogen, and elastin: connective and structural proteins that keep the skin smooth and strong.
If skin doesn’t have enough of them, collagen and elastin production slows down, resulting in skin that’s less firm and plump (a process that begins around age 25 and continues with age, particularly in women).
Amino acids also promote healing (helping to repair skin damage), help maintain healthy pH, kill free radicals, and keep the skin’s moisture barrier strong.
Skin cells, like all cells in the human body, are constantly renewing themselves. Since amino acids stimulate the production of collagen, unbalanced ratios of amino acids will cause a reduction in collagen levels - resulting in sagging, wrinkled skin. Collagen and elastin keep skin tissue firm, and prevent thinning of the skin, which is often when wrinkles start to appear.
Collagen is useful, but can’t reliably be applied to the skin in order to increase skin’s overall collagen levels. Instead, we work to boost collagen production with ingredients that nourish the skin, which is exactly what amino acids do.
Free radicals are molecules that are missing electrons, which turns them into dangerous electron scavengers; if they manage to steal electrons from other important molecules in the body (for example, DNA molecules) they can destabilize those molecules and cause terrible damage.
And more free radicals are created in the process! Many dangerous conditions can be the result of this process, including many heart and blood disorders, and even cancers.
Thankfully, many amino acids are free radical scavengers—putting a stop to the damage that free radicals can pose!
Amino acids have a distinct ability to bind to water molecules, allowing them to greatly increase hydration in the skin. They can also help protect the skin’s moisture barrier by helping to balance pH levels. When the skin’s acid/base levels are off, your skin can’t effectively prevent dangerous substances, including bad bacteria, from entering the skin, which can result in acne breakouts and other undesirable blemishes, even skin infections.
If your skin is dehydrated, it will often produce more oil to compensate, resulting in an oily, congested complexion. If your skin is properly hydrated - the less visible lines and wrinkles will be, leaving your skin supple and firm.
Perhaps the most magical quality of amino acids is their ability to heal damaged skin and prevent tissue breakdown. Because they play important roles in cell metabolism and the structural elements of skin, amino acids can increase cell turnover and even help reduce scarring.
Since the acids can help increase the rate of turnover (eliminating dead cells and allowing new cells to grow in their place), acne scarring may also disappear at a faster rate than it would on its own. Amino acids are being studied to see if they can reduce the depth of stretch marks, which can often be extremely prominent and difficult to remove without laser treatments.
It’s no secret that UV radiation can be incredibly damaging to the skin, and the effects of sun damage can last for years, causing premature aging. Wrinkles, age spots, and skin dehydration can often be traced back to sun overexposure, and many types of skin cancer (like the extremely dangerous and life-threatening malignant melanoma) can be attributed to sun damage.
Amino acids can actually reverse many of the effects of UV damage—reducing wrinkles, dehydration, and discoloration! Of course, consistent use of sun protection is a must when working toward skin repair, as sun exposure can undo all your hard-earned progress. Make sure you wear sun protection of at least SPF 30 every day.
There are several amino acids which have been proven to help dramatically improve the condition of skin:
These amino acids, while effective on their own, often work best in conjunction with each other. For example, a combination of lysine and arginine can effectively treat certain skin infections, while proline and leucine can fight wrinkles best when paired together!
While finding the best balance of amino acids in a skincare product is important, you should also look for ingredients that complement the effectiveness of your amino acid blend. Antioxidants and probiotics are excellent additions, as amino acids can actually improve the skin’s ability to utilize them!
Since amino acids are naturally produced by the body, the acids themselves do not cause any sort of skin sensitivity, in fact, they often reduce inflammation and redness!
With that said, all products are not created equal, and detailed research into skincare brands is always a good idea. Products with sulfates, unnatural fragrance, parabens, and phthalates can be harmful to skin and cause sensitivity.
Since certain amino acids can help other skincare ingredients penetrate the skin, it’s best to use an amino acid product directly after cleansing and before any other serums or moisturizers.
Gentle cleansing is a must, as you do not want to strip your skin of its all-important moisture barrier and unbalance your pH. The amino acids will help the skin utilize all of your skincare products’ beneficial ingredients, making your regimen more effective over time!
Because the sun is skin’s number one enemy, daily sunscreen application is a must in order to keep skin youthful. The sun’s rays can damage the skin’s ability to correctly synthesize proteins, destroying the hard work of amino acids and other nutrients. Always apply sunscreen before any type of sun exposure.
Amino acids are perhaps the most underrated elements of modern skincare. With their unique abilities to hydrate, heal, reverse damage, and increase structural support, skin with decreased levels of amino acids will begin to appear saggy, lackluster, and wrinkled. Thankfully, science now allows us to supplement our skincare regimens with amino acids, keeping us youthful for longer!