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Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) is an organic compound made by mitochondria found in every cell in your body. Mitochondria, commonly referred to as the powerhouse of the cell, contain enzymes to transform energy in your food into energy your body can use. ALA is needed for some of these enzymes to function.

Although your body produces ALA, the amount it makes is relatively small compared to the amount you get through your diet. Red meat and organ meat are among the best animal sources while spinach, broccoli, rice bran, tomato, and Brussels sprouts are among the best plant sources.

ALA has powerful antioxidant effects that are thought to have benefits for our health. It’s a common addition to skin care products, and many companies claim that it can protect your skin from environmental damage and prevent signs of aging.

Let’s dig deeper into the potential benefits of ALA for skin care and look at how you can best use it.

Clinical trials looking at the effectiveness of ALA supplementation for our health have been ongoing since 1959.

Along with its benefits for skin health, current research is looking into ALA’s benefits for:

Despite ALA’s potential benefits, it has poor bioavailability, meaning our bodies have trouble absorbing it. Modern formulas have improved ALA’s stability and increased the amount that your body can absorb topically and orally. Bioavailability seems to be highest in adults over the age of 75.

ALA benefits for skin health are thought to come from its high antioxidant content. An antioxidant is a molecule that protects your cells from damage by donating electrons to potentially dangerous molecules called free radicals.

Your skin contains a high concentration of antioxidants like vitamin C and vitamin E to protect against ultraviolet light, air pollution, and cigarette smoke.

There’s a limited amount of research on ALA for skin health, but a handful of studies have found some promising results.

Sun protection

There’s often little to no ALA found in the outer layers of the skin, so it’s thought that applying ALA topically could act as a protective layer to protect your skin from ultraviolet (UV) light rays.

A 2013 study found that a mixture of 1.1% alpha-tocopherol and 0.5% lipoic acid was effective at delivering antioxidants into the skin in vitro, meaning with isolated skin samples. More research needs to be performed on people to understand the extent of its sun-protecting benefits.

Antiwrinkle

There’s a limited amount of research looking at ALA’s effects on wrinkles. However, one study did find promising results.

The 2015 study examined the effect of a 5% topical ALA solution for treating facial wrinkles. The researchers found that topical ALA caused an almost complete reduction of fine lines around the eyes and upper lip in most of the participants. No adverse side effects were reported.

May lighten dark spots caused by sun damage

A 2019 animal study examined the effects of ALA administered topically using new nanocapsule technology. The researchers found that ALA administered using this technology was able to reduce pigmentation caused by photoaging in vitro in guinea pigs.

Anti-aging

It’s thought that ALA can have anti-aging benefits due to its strong antioxidant benefits that protect from sun damage and stress caused by pollution and other environmental factors.

A 2011 review of studies concluded that ALA has the potential to be a powerful anti-aging agent when used appropriately. However, until more research is done, it’s unclear how significant ALA’s effects are.

May reduce skin damage caused by smoking

Exposure to cigarette smoke can cause oxidative stress that damages your skin. A 2017 rat study looked at the potential of ALA to reduce skin damage caused by cigarette smoke exposure.

The researchers found that rats given ALA showed an improved ability to heal smoked-induced skin damage due to ALA’s anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory properties.

May improve wound healing

One 2013 rat study found some evidence that ALA may speed up wound healing. The researchers examined the effect of applying ALA topically to wounds created by surgical incision.

Seven days after treatment started, researchers found that 60.7 percent of the rats given ALA had improved wound healing compared to 43 percent in a control group.

Taking ALA supplements seems to be relatively safe for most people and side effects are generally mild when taken in the recommended dose orally or topically. However, you should avoid taking high doses, since there’s a lack of research looking at how it will affect your body.

In a 2017 study, people with diabetic nephropathy (kidney disease) were given 600 milligrams (mg) of ALA daily for 8 weeks intravenously. One person developed mild nausea and the others had no side effects.

A 2016 study looking at the effect of 600 to 1,800 mg of ALA taken orally per day in people with schizophrenia found that there were no serious side effects. Some people reported mild gastrointestinal symptoms and mild skin irritation over the 12-week study.

Pregnant women and children should avoid taking ALA unless advised by a doctor.

Additionally, supplements aren’t closely monitored by the FDA, so you should proceed with caution and talk to your doctor before starting a new supplement. It’s possible for there to be dangerous levels of approved ingredients, even in cases where they’re not listed on ingredient lists.

You can take ALA topically through gels and creams or orally in supplement form.

If you decide to take ALA orally, it’s a good idea to stick to the recommended dose on the bottle, usually in the range of 300 to 600 mg. Daily doses up to 1,800 mg haven’t caused serious side effects in research, but there’s limited research looking at the long-term effects.

ALA creams and gels used in research generally have an ALA concentration in the range of 1% to 5%. Most ALA skin care products include ALA with a mix of other ingredients that moisturize your skin and help prevent photo-aging.

ALA seems to be well-tolerated by most people, but any time you apply a new skin care product, it’s a good idea to start with a small patch of skin to see how your body reacts before applying it to your face. Wait for 24 hours and if you show signs of an allergic reaction, discontinue use.

Some researchers recommend applying a 1% to 4% cream or gel every second day for 3 weeks prior to using it daily.

Skin care products containing ALA are widely available at pharmacies and online shops that sell cosmetics.

Shop for products with alpha-lipoic acid online.

ALA has strong antioxidant effects and has the potential to slow down skin aging caused by sun and environmental damage. However, there’s a limited amount of research on people at this time. More clinical evidence is needed to find out how effective ALA is for skin health.

Many skin care products contain ALA in a blend of ingredients that moisturize your skin and help prevent environmental damage. Taking ALA in a blend is likely a better choice than taking it alone since you can benefit from other ingredients that have more research to back their effectiveness.