Skincare standards, part 2: Why are amino acids hiding in your skincare? Here’s why

April 26, 2023

If you’re contemplating which new and promising skincare product ingredient to add to your current routine, consider placing amino acids at the top of the list. They’re not going to be immediately recognizable on a skincare ingredient list (more on that later). But when used alongside other skincare products, they have the potential to help your body produce more useful proteins like elastin and collagen, potentially resulting in brighter, firmer and healthier skin. Clear some space on your bathroom counter for your skin’s new BFF: Amino acids. 

What are amino acids? 

Put simply, amino acids are the building blocks of all protein. Think of them like Legos: They can be connected in an almost infinite number of ways to make skin bright, radiant and so much more. Key amino acids for skin include: 

  • Keratin: Helps form your skin’s outer layer (the epidermis) 
  • Collagen: Aims to strengthen and hydrate your skin 
  • Elastin: Gives your skin a more bouncy and youthful look thanks to its stretchy structure 

There are two main types of amino acids: 

  • Essential amino acids: Our bodies can’t naturally produce these types of amino acids, so we ingest them by consuming different types of food. Complete proteins like dairy, poultry, beef, quinoa, eggs and soy each contain all nine essential amino acids 
  • Nonessential amino acids: The human body produces these types of amino acids internally, though you can still find them in plant and animal-based foods 

While you won’t often see the words “amino acids” clearly listed on the ingredients label, you can look for any of the following amino acids in skincare products to determine if they’re present: 

  • Lysine: Lysine may benefit your skin by increasing your body’s production of collagen 
  • Histidine: This essential amino acid can aid in the repairing of damaged tissue 
  • Glycine: Known to many as glycolic acid, glycine is a chemical exfoliant that helps remove the unwanted outer layer of dead skin cells. This allows newer, brighter skin cells to take their place 

4 benefits of incorporating amino acids into your skincare routine 

As you age, your body produces fewer essential amino acids than it once did—hence the potential to notice fine lines and skin that’s less supple as you get older. But if you incorporate amino acid skincare into your daily regimen, you may notice a surprisingly vibrant, hydrated and smoother complexion.  

Repairing damaged skin

Whether battling fine lines or lingering acne scars, amino acid skincare may be the secret ingredient to promoting cellular skin repair and improving the appearance of your skin. That’s because amino acids for skin have the potential to increase collagen production, which can enhance your skin’s overall smoothness and elasticity. 

Improving water retention

Amino acids used in tandem with other skincare products like hyaluronic acid may increase your skin’s ability to retain water. Amino acids can help maintain an adequate amount of hydration in the outer layer of your skin—and more cellular hydration equals more moisture. This has the potential to increase your skin’s elasticity and seemingly slow down any approaching fine lines and wrinkles that they bring with them. 

Protecting your skin from sun damage

This you know: To protect your skin against sunburn, dark spots and wrinkles, it’s important to apply sunscreen moisturizer with a minimum SPF of 30 to your face daily. But what you don’t know is: Mycosporine-like amino acids (MAAs) provide a similar effect to that of vitamin C. They are a natural UV-absorbing amino acid compound found in fungi, algae and cyanobacteria that may protect your skin against aging, inflammation and lower collagen production. 

Using antibacterial properties to fight acne

A recent study showed that zinc complexes containing the amino acids glycine and histidine could be topically used to treat acne due to their ability to combat a bacteria called C. acnes. With fewer acne-causing bacteria present on your skin, it may become easier for your skin to begin the healing process. 

References for this information: 
Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology, 2020, issue 1265, pages 187-199  
Medline Plus Website, Medical Encyclopedia, Amino Acids 
Cleveland Clinic Website, Health Library, Body Systems & Organs 
Cleveland Clinic Website, Health Library, Articles 
Mount Sinai Website, Health Library 
University of Rochester Medical Center Website, Health Encyclopedia 
Molecules, 2018, volume 23, issue 4, page 863 
Dermatology Practical & Conceptual, 2022, volume 12, issue 1 
International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 2021, volume 22, issue 4 
Johns Hopkins Medicine Website, Health, Wellness and Prevention 
Pharmaceuticals, 2021, volume 14, issue 1 
Marine Drugs, 2019, volume 17, issue 4 

About the Author

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Jacki Marzano is SoCal-based storyteller and head copywriter at Murad Skincare. She's shaped the voice of some of the most recognized beauty brands in the business, has a penchant for sharing homemade cookies, and believes SPF is the secret to getting carded well into your 40s.