Amino Acids 101: A Science Lesson With Serious Skin Benefits

Updated 11/17/19

Trying to grasp atomic structures and ionic compounds in science wasn't always all that thrilling for us, and presumably—and it's amazing if it is—it's not your forte. Yet poring over the ingredient lists on skincare products is practically a hobby. We all love hearing about the latest skincare ingredients to deliver big results and usually rush to the nearest shop to find them afterward. This is the kind of science we can all get excited about. So for strictly educational purposes, it's our duty to share something that might have had your eyes glazing over in chemistry, but with these serious skin claims, you'll want to know all about it.

We're talking about amino acids for skin. They're essential throughout the body but especially beneficial for your skin. To steer you in the right direction, we spoke with consultant dermatologist Dr. Justine Kluk, who gave us the full scoop. 

Type of ingredient: Varying

Main benefits: Soothe skin, help moisturize, act as antioxidants

Who should use it: In general, whatever amino acids are added to your skincare will be catered to the function of the product.

How often is typical use? You can use them as much as you want.

Works well with: Pretty much everything; glycerides, ceramides, and peptides in particular.

Amino Acids for Skin: Woman with red lips, gold earrings
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What are Amino Acids?

First up, why should we be paying attention to amino acids at all? We know skincare ingredients come and go in waves of popularity, but these are keepers. Dr. Kluk reminded us of something you may have learned in AP Bio (we sure did)—that "amino acids are the building blocks that make up proteins and have a role in virtually all the biological processes that occur in our bodies. The sequence in which they combine together determines which particular protein they will form and how they will function."

In other words: amino acids are vital components in making our bodies work, so it stands to reason that they're also vital in anything happening on a skin level, too.

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Benefits of Amino Acids for Skin

As we know, science class gets way more interesting when it leads to noticeable results for our skin, and amino acids for your skin certainly do. See, amino acids "promote cellular repair, hydrate the skin and provide antioxidant protection," says Dr. Kluk. Joanna Vargas, Celebrity Facialist and Founder of Joanna Vargas Salons and Skin Care, notes "They increase hydration, plump the skin, reduce inflammation and build collagen."

We already have amino acids in the top layers of our skin, and they're very busy working on keeping our skin hydrated by pushing moisture through and into the skin. We've all known the tragic impact a lack of moisture makes on our skin. It's not just dryness—everything from acne to rough textures to those pesky lines can pop up—so we're all for an extra boost of hydration in whatever form it comes. 

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Sold already? Well, before you start rushing out to look for products, here are all the important details of what you should be keeping an eye out for:

Kluk says that "there are 20 known amino acids, some of which we make in our own bodies and others which we can't make on our own but get from our diet. All of these are important for good skin health." So there are two camps of amino acids: the essential ones that we have to get from foods like fish, or even chickpeas, milk, or supplements. Then we also have non-essential amino acids, which our own body makes for us. They're still essential, just not essential to ingest. When you're looking for amino acids in skincare specifically, some of the acids you want to look out for (the ones that work the best topically) are arginine, lysine, histidine, glycine, and leucine. 

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We know there's a lot going happening on your bathroom shelves, so luckily, amino acids don't require an entirely new step in your routine. They're just an addition; one that will make your products work harder. As Kluk explains, this is because "amino acids can combine together to form protein fragments known as peptides, which have been studied and proven to increase skin firmness and texture and to reduce wrinkles when applied topically to the skin." That's right, when you see peptides as an ingredient in your products you're essentially getting something built by amino acids; it's just an evolved form, if you will.

How to Use Them

While you can get some of the benefits from your diet or through supplements, it's become clear that using amino acids in your skin routine gives you an extra boost. Kluk adds that "if you would like to introduce these into your skincare routine, a moisturizer or eye cream would be a good place to start."

The Best Products with Amino Acids

Amino Acids for Skin: Fresh Soy Face Cleanser
Fresh Soy Face Cleanser $38
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Glycine is an amino acid that's great for elasticity and smoothing fine lines. It can be found in soy, but there's only so many soybeans that you can eat. Thankfully, this gentle cleanser has bottled all of that glycine goodness so you can get the benefits straight on your skin. 

Amino Acids for Skin: 5 Super Eye Serum
Verso 5 Super Eye Serum $85
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This do-it-all eye cream not only boasts a variety of puff-reducing amino acids and magically plumping hyaluronic acid but also the brand's Retinol 8 for serious wrinkle smoothing. It will also significantly reduce your yearly concealer bill. 

Amino Acids for Skin: GenOptics Aura Essence Serum 1.6 oz
SK-II GenOptics Aura Essence Serum $245
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This potent serum is made with the brand's signature fermented Pitera complex, a powerhouse combo of organic acids, minerals, and amino acids. Niacinamide brightens, and Siberian ginseng extract firms and tones the skin. 

EMERALD CBD + Adaptogens Deep Moisture Glow Oil
Herbivore Emerald CBD + Adaptogens Deep Moisture Glow Oil $58
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Hemp seed oil (what this product is based around) is full of amino acids to keep your skin healthy. However, that's not the only punch this oil is packing. It's also loaded with ashwagandha and turmeric, adaptogens that keep environmental pollution and UV damage at bay.

Bloomeffects royal tulip nectar in box, actual product comes in a jar
Bloomeffects Royal Tulip Nectar $65
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This ointment-to-serum concoction is our go-to for any skin irritation, and one of the founders of the brand even claims it's the only thing that has cured her eczema. It's chock-full of the brand's proprietary tulip-based complex, which provides a rich source of amino acids to soothe whatever maladies may come your way. It also utilizes white horehound and hyaluronic acid to draw in and seal away moisture.

Enlivening Amino-AG Eye Treatment
Boscia Enlivening Amino-AG Eye Treatment $38
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We all wake up without enough sleep sometimes, and Boscia are here to help with that. Lightweight and moisturizing, this eye treatment gets blood flowing under your eyes, helps with cell turnover, and stops hyperpigmentation in its tracks. Amino acids, Vitamin E, and licorice root extract all combine into the perfect morning eye cream, for times when your mornings aren't so perfect.

Click here to read all about CoQ10, another all-star skincare ingredient dermatologists love. 

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