Alpha Lipoic Acid For Skin: What It Is, Benefits, Side Effects

by Gio
alpha lipoic acid skincare benefits

Is it me or every antioxidant promises to be the best for fighting wrinkles, protecting skin from pollution, and making it a couple of tea, too?

Alpha Lipoic Acid is no exception. It made its debut in the skincare world thanks to Dr Perricone, who singled it out as the key molecule in his expensive formulas.

But I feel like it was never really on the skincare map until The Ordinary put it there. Their Alpha Lipoic Acid 5% uses the highest concentration you’ll find in skincare – and that’s NOT necessarily a good thing.

For every smoothed out complexion, Alpha Lipoic Acid left a stinging trail on someone’s else face. Should you use it or is this an antioxidant better left on the skincare shelves? Let’s find out:

What Is Alpha Lipoic Acid?

Alpha Lipoic Acid (a.k.a. Thioctic Acid) is an enzyme naturally found both in the human body and foods, like spinach and rice bran. Here’s everything it does for us:

  1. It’s a powerful antioxidant that fights free radicals
  2. It inhibits the abnormal cross-linking that makes skin age faster. When collagen fibres cross-link, for example, they become hard and stiff, damaging skin and leading to wrinkles and sagging. Abnormal cross-linking also hardens your arteries and stiffens your joints.
  3. It has anti-inflammatory properties. Guess what? Inflammation is one of the main causes of premature aging.
  4. It helps your cells produce the energy they need to function properly.
  5. It helps to remove toxic metals from your body.

Who knew it could do so much?

P.S. Alpha Lipoic Acid is called “the universal antioxidant” because it’s soluble in both water and oil.

Related: How Do Antioxidants In Skincare Work?


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Alpha Lipoic Acid Benefits: What Does It Do For Skin?

As you already know, Alpha Lipoic Acid is a powerful antioxidant. Studies show that, when naturally present in the body or taken through oral supplements, it can:

  • Protect skin against oxidative stress (i.e. the damage caused by free radicals – think wrinkles and dark spots)
  • Regenerate other antioxidants, including Vitamins C and E
  • Soothe inflammation and irritations

But can it do all these things when topically applied to the skin?

It’s not a done deal. Take collagen, for example. It’s the protein that keeps your skin firm. Boosting its production means fewer wrinkles and no sagging. But putting collagen in a cream or serum does nothing. It can’t penetrate skin deep enough to do the job.

Is Alpha Lipoic Acid different? Hard to tell. There are only a handful of studies done on its topical benefits. Most of the research comes from Dr Perricone. Surprise, surprise, Alpha Lipoic Acid is one of the key ingredients in his line. Biased much?

FYI, that doesn’t mean Alpha Lipoic Acid doesn’t work. But what does independent research says?

A 2003 study compared a 5% Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) cream to a placebo. The researchers asked 33 women (average age 54 years) to apply the ALA cream on one side of the face and the placebo on the other twice a day for 12 weeks.

The results? The side treated with ALA looked better, showing that “5% LA improves clinical characteristics related to photoageing of facial skin.” In particular, it improves “skin roughness of 50.8%”

I’m waiting for more studies to confirm these results, but so far, Alpha Lipoic Acid looks promising.

Related: Common Antioxidants Used In Skincare

What Are The Best Products With Alpha Lipoic Acid?

Does Alpha Lipoic Acid Have Any Side Effects?

Nothing is perfect. Like most powerful weapons, Alpha Lipoic Acid is not without side effects. It has two:

Related: When Do Skincare Products Expire?

Should You Use Alpha Lipoic Acid?

Alpha Lipoic Acid is a powerful antioxidant. But, I have a few concerns about it:

  • We don’t know yet just how powerful it is when topically applied on the skin. Until then, I’m not gonna splurge on a $100 serum if Alpha Lipoic Acid is the only goodie in there.
  • You should never rely only on one antioxidant. Just like your body needs more than kale to be healthy, your skin needs more than Alpha Lipoic Acid to stay young.
  • It’s irritating. For it work, you need at least 5%, but at that concentration it can sting and irritate skin. If you have sensitive skin, this is a no-go for you.

If you find a serum or moisturiser with Alpha Lipoic Acid, great. But don’t go out of your way to include it in your skincare routine just yet.

The Bottom Line

Research on Alpha Lipoic Acid is just at the beginning. It promises to be a very powerful antioxidants when used in high concentrations. Too bad they can be irritating, too!

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