Alpha Lipoic Acid, sometimes also referred to as lipoic acid, is a naturally found ingredient most famed for its antioxidant properties. It can be found in nature through foods such as broccoli, brussel sprouts and beets. It is also naturally made by the human body to help protect against cellular damage. In the skin care products it is labeled as Thioctic Acid on the ingredient list.
Alpha lipoic acid (ALA) supplementation has been under study for many decades with results showing significant improvement to conditions such as nerve damage, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Because of these protective results, the topical application of ALA has recently garnered attention, especially for anti-ageing prowess.
THE BIOLOGICAL BENEFITS OF OPTIMAL ALPHA LIPOIC ACID LEVELS
Ingredients pose great interest when they are found naturally in the human body. Their presence means they are needed for specific biological processes, that the human body will not perceive their presence as foreign (which can often promote irritation) and that biological systems already exist to be re-booted by supplementation.
It’s especially important to study how levels of these ingredient correlate to age and health. Understanding the effect an ingredient has whether positive or negative is often easily concluded by its concentration in youth and maturity.
The biological concertation of alpha-lipoic acid is noted to significantly decline with age.
Research has shown when present in optimal amounts, ALA acts as an;
- Enhancer of the antioxidant effects of glutathione and vitamins C and E
- Co-factor to energy production – keeping cells youthful
- Cross-linking inhibitor – therefore hindering the formation of fine lines and wrinkles
- Promoter of wound healing
- Promoter of collagen synthesis
- Alpha-lipoic acid is therefore a very interesting ingredient for helping to protect against the effects of ageing, both in its resistance and reversal.
HOW ALPHA LIPOIC ACID PROTECTS YOUR SKIN AS AN ANTI-OXIDANT
Antioxidants are essential ingredients for any skincare routine seeking to promote a youthful and even skin appearance. Every day skin is exposed to extrinsic stressors, factors which are somewhat under your control, for example UV light and particulate pollution exposure. These stressors create reactive oxygen species (ROS) speeding up your biologically pre-programmed rate of ageing and forcing premature changes.
Potent antioxidants such as alpha-lipoic acid help to prevent these premature changes by replenishing skins resisting antioxidant reserves.
When skin becomes overwhelmed by ROS species, naturally existing, skin present antioxidants are depleted. If this process is left un-attended premature ageing begins and the possibility of serious skin conditions e.g. cancer is heightened.
The antioxidant nature of alpha-lipoic acid is unique within its class, having the ability to protect and act within both water and oil soluble environments. Skin is a complex mixture of both therefore making ALA, ever more potent in its activity.
ALPHA LIPOIC ACID AS AN ANTI-OXIDANT BOOSTER
ALA is ever more potent as an anti-oxidant because of its ability to regenerate other skin-identical anti-oxidants. Vitamin C and E are 2 ever-present, also skin identical anti-oxidants with important protective effects. Extrinsic stressors can easily and quickly deplete skin reserves.
When an antioxidant defends against reactive oxygen species its energy becomes used and therefore the ingredient becomes inactive. Using an anti-oxidant such as alpha-lipoic acid helps push against this depletion by regenerating antioxidants back to their active state of being.
Using an anti-oxidant booster such a lipoic acid helps to protect your skin against the constant onslaught of modern day stressors. It also means skincare containing this ingredient will help promote a youthful skin resilience for much longer than other non-boosting antioxidants.
HOW ALPHA LIPOIC ACID PROTECTS YOUR SKIN AS A COFACTOR TO ENERGY PRODUCTION
Alpha-lipoic acid is an essential cofactor in the mechanisms individual cells use to create energy. These processes are complex enzyme based reactions requiring the presence of cofactors to progress.
A healthy young cell has all the essential ingredients needed to adequately perform all of its functions. An aged and tired cell lacks some of the essential ingredients needed to adequately perform all of its functions.
When skin cells lack energy to perform optimally, their health and appearance declines.
Alpha-lipoic acid is an ingredient of ‘2-hands’ meaning it is naturally a racemic mixture of ‘mirror-image’ ingredients. The R-enantiomer (R-alpha-lipoic acid) and the S-enantiomer (S-alpha-lipoic acid). These 2 separate ingredients perform similar functions, however it is only the R-enantiomer which is able to act as a cofactor to energy production. Some studies even suggest that the presence of S-alpha-lipoic acid reduces the cofactor activity of R-alpha-lipoic acid.
When looking at skincare ingredients (INCI) lists if the right handed version of alpha-lipoic acid is used, the R- enantiomer – it will be listed on the ingredients list as ‘R-alpha-lipoic acid’ (R-ALA).
ALPHA LIPOIC ACID AS A CROSS-LINKING INHIBITOR
Youthful skin has a healthy network of supportive collagen and elastin. Collagen works as a pliable scaffolding and elastin works as the flexible filler in-between. Together both structural proteins lend skin durability, resistance and resilience. A healthy network of the 2 is able to effectively resist fine lines and wrinkles. However as you age, elastin becomes disordered and collagen hardened and stiff.
Cross-linking contributes to the hardening and stiffening of skin’s vital collagen and elastin network.
Cross-linking describes the reaction of 2 ingredients becoming often irreversibly linked to each other. The reaction can occur between 2 large proteins, for instance 2 collagen molecules. Usually resilient and pliable, when collagen becomes cross-linked its resilience is decreased and its pliability hardened.
Cross-linking can be promoted by oxidative stressors such as UV light as well as internal factors such as blood-sugar levels. Health conditions that impair a person’s ability to adequately control blood-sugar levels e.g. diabetes encourage cross-linking. This is the reason why the skin of a diabetic ages more quickly than the skin of a non-diabetic.
Alpha lipoic acid has been noted to help prevent the progression of biological cross-linking reactions.
This activity is thought to be a consequence of the potent anti-oxidant activity of the ingredient with cross-linking often involving the creation of free-radicals and oxidative conditions.
HOW ALPHA LIPOIC ACID PROTECTS YOUR SKIN AS AN ANTI-INFLAMMATORY
Inflammation describes a biological reaction placing an unlevied amount of stress on a certain part of the human body. It can be triggered as the result of injury, environment or lifestyle.
Inflammation is good in small amounts. Inflammation is the natural reaction of a person’s immune system to attack and isolate intruding bacteria and viruses. The process is stressful, however in comparison to the effects of pathogenic bacteria – preferred.
When inflammation becomes chronic, on-going and continually stimulated, its effects are detrimental to the health and wellbeing of a person’s body. Cells placed under such chronic stress – age prematurely.
Studies show R-alpha-lipoic acid is able to act as an anti-inflammatory, most probabaly as a result of its potent anti-oxidant effects preventing reactive oxygen species from triggering chronic stress.
ALPHA LIPOIC ACID AS A PROMOTER OF WOUND HEALING
Ingredients that encourage skin to act in a healthy, youthful way, also often encourage healing. Skin that is young heals quickly and skin that is aged heals slowly. Therefore ingredients that encourage healing, likely have an overall anti-ageing effect.
Studies show that a combination of alpha-lipoic acid and gold nanoparticles, or ALA and epigallocatechin gallate significantly speeded wound healing, in some studies even helping to prevent their initial occurrence.
The wound healing benefits of lipoic acid are most probably a consequence of the ingredients activity as a potent antioxidant and moderate anti-inflammatory.
HOW ALPHA LIPOIC ACID PROTECTS YOUR SKIN AS A PROMOTER OF COLLAGEN SYNTHESIS
Collagen synthesis naturally declines with age, levels remain consistent until a person reaches their mid-twenties at which point levels fall year on year. As collagen networks provide important structural integrity to skin, falling levels encourage fine lines and wrinkles, skin laxing and jowls.
Small scale studies have shown alpha-lipoic acid in concentrations of 0.5% has the ability to stimulate and enhance collagen production. The outcomes of such studies show several skin benefits including, skin thickening, fine line disappearance, wrinkle reduction and scar improvement. More recent studies have tested the application of lipoic acid to concentrations of 5% finding their effects significantly reduce wrinkles while also improving skin tone.
HOW TO INTEGRATE ALPHA LIPOIC ACID INTO YOUR SKINCARE ROUTINE
When using skincare containing alpha-lipoic acid, it is best to choose formulations containing between 0.5-5% – which is within the range tested to show improvement in fine lines and wrinkles. As an antioxidant its benefits can be enjoyed in a morning or evening skincare routine. To enjoy the protective effects of lipoic acid, morning use is advised, to help aid wound healing, inflammation and energy production, evening use is suggested.
Alpha-lipoic acid is considered a sensitively acting, anti-ageing ingredient. Many commonly advocated anti-ageing ingredients such as retinol or glycolic acid peels, can irritate and upset skin and are not recommended for sensitive skin types. Therefore for those experiencing skin sensitivity or with an underlying sensitive skin type, alpha-lipoic acid provides an emerging anti-ageing solution.
Alpha Lipoic Acid is very light sensitive ingredient. If used in the morning, layer it with sunscreen.