Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 11/12/2020
It’s the most common skin problem in the U.S., affecting up to 50 million adults each year, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.
And acne is a lucrative opportunity for companies and healthcare professionals that can successfully treat it, garnering over a billion dollars a year in medical care and treatment costs, as well as lost productivity.
For those of us who live with acne, the costs are all too familiar. Over your lifetime, you could probably fill a room with all of the half-used tubes and bottles of acne creams, washes, pads, and pills.
Perhaps it’s this — wasted time and money — that has you researching lysine as a possible solution in pursuit of clear skin. Well, we’re here to help. We’ll dig into what lysine is, the possible benefits of it, and whether it’s worth trying on your acne. But first, a spoiler:
There is no hard scientific evidence that lysine is an effective acne treatment. However, anecdotes found online indicate some people have positive experiences with the relatively low-cost supplement.
Now, if you want the details, read on.
Lysine (often referred to as L-lysine) is an essential amino acid, which means it’s not produced by the body and instead must be obtained through food.
It’s most commonly found in red meats, dairy products, and fish, but can also be found in supplement form. The most lysine-rich foods include wild game, pork, wheat germ, cottage cheese, and chicken.
In the body, lysine is highly concentrated in the muscles. It’s important for tissue growth, function, and healing; immune function, and more.
Most people should get around 1 gram of l-lysine each day, an amount typically achieved with a healthy diet including adequate protein. For people recovering from burns or major injuries, more lysine may be better. This is because lysine can aid in tissue healing, due to its ability to promote collagen growth.
If you’re generally healthy, you’re likely getting enough lysine. But low lysine levels have been found in people with some existing medical conditions. These include: Parkinson’s disease, kidney disease, hypothyroidism, asthma, and depression.
The symptoms of lysine deficiency include fatigue, slowed growth in children, hair loss, anemia, inability to concentrate, irritability, bloodshot eyes and reproductive issues. But these symptoms are pretty generic, and associated with many conditions (medical and otherwise), so if you have reason to suspect you’re lysine deficient, the best solution is to consult with a medical professional.
There is relatively little compelling evidence tying lysine supplementation to specific health benefits. The primary exception to that is the herpes simplex virus.
Lysine competes with arginine (another amino acid) for absorption. Because arginine acts as food for the herpes virus, lysine has the potential to inhibit herpes virus growth by bullying it’s way past arginine. It’s because of this, lysine may be useful in both prevention and treatment of herpes, including cold sores.
As of now, the research regarding lysine, blood sugar and diabetes is thin. One small study from 2008 studied 13 subjects found that lysine ingestion resulted in a slight decrease in serum glucose, and increase in insulin and glucagon.
Lysine can aid in the absorption and retention of calcium, and because calcium plays a role in strong bones, some researchers surmise lysine could play a role in bone health or possible osteoporosis prevention. While preliminary lab studies have indicated promising results, there is no scientific proof of lysine’s direct effects on human bone health.
As for acne, there is no evidence lysine has any impact on the treatment or prevention of acne. Any suggestions to these benefits likely come from the effects of lysine on collagen, an important protein abundant in your skin.
Collagen is crucial for skin elasticity and as your body makes less of it in old age, the degradation is related to wrinkles. Lysine may help in collagen production, but there are no direct scientific links between lysine, collagen production and acne.
In the absence of scientific evidence, there is some anecdotal evidence that lysine could benefit skin health, and acne breakouts specifically. But, it’s important to note that online reviews are no substitute for science. Any number of things could be responsible for someone’s skin improvement that happened to coincide with them beginning lysine supplementation.
A quick search of Amazon’s lysine supplement product reviews results in claims like these:
“This cured my cystic acne in 3 weeks!”
“If you have breakouts, post breakout marking and scars or other skin issues, you need to give this a try.”
“If you have similar hormonal acne issues, I feel your pain and understand your struggle and I really hope this stuff will help you as much as it's helped me!”
“I don’t believe I’ve had a single acne blemish since starting lysine.”
When you struggle with acne, any potential solution may seem like one worth trying. And lysine is a relatively simple one. Numerous lysine supplements are available online, largely costing less than $10 for a small bottle.
Considering how much money you may have already thrown at this problem, that cost can seem like a drop in the bucket.
High doses of lysine may cause gallstones and high cholesterol, so follow directions carefully should you decide to try a lysine supplement.
If worse comes to worst and you want to know if lysine supplementation would be a good fit for you, don’t hesitate to reach out to your healthcare provider. They’ll be able to take a look at your medical history and figure out if lysine is an option.