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When you've tried all the typical acne treatments and nothing seems to be doing the trick, your next step might be to turn to your friends, coworkers, or even YouTubers for word-of-mouth recommendations. Search around enough, and one of those "it worked for me" acne remedies might be lysine supplements. If that's the case for you and now you want to know the science behind why the essential amino acid might work to address your acne breakouts (or if there is even any science to back it up), let us help. Here, board-certified dermatologists Lily Talakoub, MD, of McLean Dermatology and Skincare, Neal Schultz, MD, of Park Avenue Skincare, and Nava Greenfield, MD, of Schweiger Dermatology Group in NYC, explain what exactly lysine does for your skin and if that includes treating your acne breakouts. Keep reading to find out what they have to say.
Type of ingredient: Essential amino acid
Main benefits: Builds protein and collagen and brings energy to the body.
Who should use it: As an essential amino acid, Talakoub says everyone needs lysine as a part of their nutrition.
How often can you use it: Lysine should be consumed as a part of your daily diet. Those with a lysine deficiency may need to take a daily supplement, but Talakoub stresses that it's better to eat the lysine through a healthy, balanced diet than it is to take artificial supplements.
Works well with: Other amino acids. "Taking one amino acid isn’t going to help build collagen or proteins in the body," Talakoub says. "But taking all the amino acids together will help build more of the proteins in your body."
Don't use with: "Lysine does increase the transportation of calcium in the body, and most people that have normal metabolisms can tolerate it, and most people actually need some calcium in their body," Talakoub explains. "However, if you’re taking a calcium supplement, you probably shouldn’t be taking lysine together with it."
What Is Lysine?
First, a quick science refresher: an amino acid is a building block of protein. Lysine is a particular type of amino acid called an essential amino acid, which means it’s one of the 10 amino acids that you need to eat in your diet because your body does not make it: "You need lysine to make protein to make muscle to support cells and to do all the things required for life," Schultz says.
Foods such as avocado, nuts, dairy, red meat, chicken, fish, and other foods high in protein are great sources of lysine, but it can also be taken in a supplement form. "Usually, lysine is not one of the supplements that you find in a multivitamin, but it is something you can take separately as a supplement," Talakoub says. However, Talakoub adds that if you don't have a lysine deficiency, and you have a balanced diet, there's no need to supplement lysine. While you can consult your doctor to find out if you have a lysine deficiency, Schultz says it's highly unlikely. "If you’re not eating enough food with lysine in it, you can supplement, but it’s kind of tough—if you’re not wasting away—to not be getting enough lysine in your diet," Schultz explains.
Benefits of Lysine for Skin
Every amino acid has other qualities other than building protein. Lysine, specifically, brings energy to the body, but it also plays an important role in the skin, according to our experts.
- Contributes to essential functions: "Your skin needs the proteins made from lysine for its essential functions, like its ability to stretch," Greenfield says.
- Builds collagen: One of the proteins that lysine helps to build is collagen, which provides structure to the skin and contributes to its elasticity and firmness.
Lysine for Acne
Because acne breaks down the skin from inflammation, and lysine helps to build collagen, the idea here (or rather, the hope) is that lysine can help treat acne. However, as Schultz explains, your body does not need to increase collagen production to repair acne pimples.
"You don’t need any help repairing the skin after an acne breakout," Schultz says. "Lysine has never been shown to increase collagen production. It’s an essential part of collagen production, but it’s never been shown to increase it unless you were severely lysine depleted with severe protein malnutrition. In the average American diet, you are getting enough lysine to do what you need to. You can’t push the equation by pushing more lysine in—that doesn’t help."
Greenfield adds that, theoretically, eating foods that contain lysine, such as avocado, fish, chicken, nuts, can improve your overall health and health of your skin, which would improve your acne. But according to all three dermatologists, there's little evidence to support lysine supplementation for skin conditions. "Clinically, we haven’t seen people that are taking oral lysine having better acne," Talakoub says.
Plain and simple? "Lysine in and of itself is not going to treat inflammatory acne," Talakoub says. There are so many other components that cause acne, between bacteria, oil, the clogging of the skin, genetics, and products that people use, so in terms of eradicating acne, Talakoub says it doesn't.
In other words, if you were hoping to find a miracle pill to solve your acne problems, this isn't it. You're better off using other products and ingredients with exhaustive and conclusive research, as recommended by your dermatologist.
Other Forms of Lysine
Not only can lysine be consumed through your diet or supplemented, but it also can be applied in a topical form. This version of lysine is not used for acne but rather is commonly used for cold sores. But despite the fact that it's a well-known topical for those pesky outbreaks, Schultz argues that lysine is not an effective treatment when applied topically.
According to Talakoub, there has been data showing that taking a supplement with lysine can help the outbreaks last for shorter periods of time. Additionally, Talakoub says if people who get reoccurring cold sores take the lysine supplement prophylactically, it can decrease the occurrence of breakouts.
However, in general, the dermatologists agree that the best way to get lysine is through a healthy, balanced diet. "I would recommend getting it from foods in its natural form, not supplements where there is little evidence for its effectiveness," Greenfield says.
Side Effects of Lysine
Based on a normal standard diet, there are no known side effects of lysine, according to Talakoub. With that said, she cautions people trying supplements on their own. "You have to be careful because supplements are not FDA-regulated, so different supplements that, even if they have the same number of milligrams, they contain different concentrations, and the body absorbs them differently," Talakoub says.
As far as topically, Schultz says any side effects from a product containing lysine would not be caused by the lysine itself, but rather the vehicle that it was used in.
Finally, Greenfield adds, "If you have a skin condition that needs attention, you should always consult with your doctor so that you can get recommendations for evidence-based practices and not nutrition and skin fads."
Yamauchi M, Sricholpech M. Lysine post-translational modifications of collagen. Essays Biochem. 2012;52:113-133. doi:10.1042/bse0520113