They’re on the ingredient label of probably a dozen beauty products you own and you may even remember them from your high school science class. But do you really know what an amino acid is, what it does and why it’s one of the most mysterious ingredients in beauty today? More than just a supplement for body builders, amino acids are essential for healthy skin and hair. Like gasoline is to a car, amino acids are to your skin, and without them, you won’t be able to get far in the fight to reduce signs of aging.
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The Collagen Creator
What to look for: Collagen amino acids
What they do: One of the most effective ways to coerce the skin into making new collagen is by using a product with collagen amino acids. “I use collagen complexes in many of my formulations because it is protein-based and feeds the skin with what it needs for new and healthy collagen,” says New York dermatologist Dennis Gross, MD.
Find them in: Dr Dennis Gross C+ Collagen Brighten & Firm Vitamin C Serum ($78)
The Damage Defender
What to look for: Glutamine
What it does: This amino acid helps the body form phospholipids (a part of the cell membrane). Without it, there’s little protection against oxidative stress and inflammation. It also aids in collagen production, replaces lost moisture and increases skin elasticity.
Find it in: Orlane B21 Extraordinaire Youth Reset ($250)
For Softer Skin
What to look for: Lysine
What it does: One of the most effective amino acids out there for adding extra hydration to the skin is lysine. Plus, besides lending a moisturizing effect, lysine is also said to play a role in the synthesis of new collagen, too.
Find it in: Korres Golden Krocus Ageless Saffron Elixir Serum ($98)
The Double-Duty Ingredient
What to look for: Proline
What it does: Dr. Gross says proline is used by the body to make collagen more than it is used to make any other protein in the body. When mixed with water (in skin and hair products), it can also act like a moisturizer.
Find it in: Hey Honey Trick and Treat Active Propolis Cream Concealer ($32)
The Ultimate Conditioner
What to look for: Wheat amino acids
What they do: These naturally derived acids (often used for their conditioning benefits) are obtained from wheat once it’s been broken down. “Wheat is not a protein, and by definition, amino acids come from protein,” says Dr. Gross. “So, because wheat is really a carbohydrate, the effects of these types of amino acids, while still effective, won’t be as strong as other derivatives.”
Find them in: John Masters Organics Honey & Hibiscus Hair Reconstructor ($28)
Grow Stronger Hair
What to look for: Angeline
What it does: Prevents the fiber around the hair follicle from hardening so that hair can grow in properly at the root. It also activates the anagen phase (growing stage) of the hair growth cycle so hair can stay in that part of the cycle for longer than normal.
Find it in: Photo Phytospecific Phytotraxil Spray ($70)
The Keratin Maker
What to look for: Arginine
What it does: It impacts hair growth by assisting in the synthesis of keratin. “Arginine is also the precursor for nitric oxide, which improves blood and nutrient supply at the root of the hair. Studies show that it can also protect hair from the damaging effects of bleach and color,” says Greenbrae, CA, plastic surgeon Kimberly Henry, MD.
Find it in: Philip B. Katira Hair Masque ($44)