Glucosamine, the ever celebrated arthritis supplement is getting popular in the skincare world. Various studies appear to show glucosamine supplements and topical creams may help improve skin appearance, reduce age spots and firm-up sagging skin. Cosmetic companies have been pumping money into research too, so is this a scam or the real deal? In this review, I will show you the glucosamine skincare research and help you make sense of it. I will also show you the product with the best evidence so far.
There are three different types used in supplements:
- Glucosamine sulfate
- Glucosamine HCL
- N-acetyl glucosamine (NAG)
This last type – NAG – is the form most studied for improving skin appearance. This is the version found in cosmetics too.
Here is a quick video review I created which summarizes the research with before and after pictures.
Glucosamine Skincare FAQ
1 How much works?
With supplements, studies have used 250 mg of glucosamine sulfate per day. With topical creams, a combination of 2% NAG and 4% niacinamide has been investigated. Look for these percentages in skin care creams.
2 Does chondroitin sulfate work?
Human research on chondroitin sulfate helping wrinkles, sagging skin and overall skin appearance cannot be located. Likewise, the same is true for the combination of glucosamine + chondroitin sulfate.
Chondroitin sulfate is controversial. Some studies link chondroitin sulfate supplements to prostate cancer. Preliminary research also suggests chondroitin sulfate supplements may promote skin cancer (melanoma). While creams probably don't have any effect on cancer, the same can't be said for supplements. Speak to your pharmacist /doctor if considering chondroitin sulfate supplements.
3 What about glucosamine HCL?
All forms of this cartilage building block look basically the same. Studies tend to use the N-acetyl glucosamine (NAG) form – especially in creams. Research on the HCL version for skin care improvement cannot be located. In theory, all forms should all work similar but if you are looking for one version to try, go with NAG.
4 Can glucosamine cause a rash?
Some studies have reported rashes, itchy skin and upset stomaches with supplements. These side effects are rare for most people. To minimize side effects start with less than recommended for the first week. Apply creams to a small patch of skin for the first week to see if you have any side effects.
5 Does MSM have skin health benefits?
Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) is also popular in the world of arthritis dietary supplements. So, can MSM also help your skin care routine? Some research hints MSM may improve the skin by helping us make a protein called keratin which is very concentrated in the skin. Most of the evidence, however, comes from lab animals and not humans. As such, it's difficult to know if MSM improves the skin care effects of NAG.
6 What is acetyl glucosamine?
It's the same thing as N-acetyl glucosamine (NAG). Sometimes cosmetics may leave out the “N” when they list their skincare product ingredients. If we are talking about dietary supplements, the N is usually in the name.
7 Does it whiten the skin?
This where the idea of NAG helping age spots come in. Age spots (liver spots) are the accumulation of the dark pigment, melanin, in response to overexposure to the sun's UV rays. Some research suggests glucosamine blocks an enzyme involved in melanin production. If this is true, then it may help lighten the skin and revere age spots.
My guess is topical skin creams would be better than supplements because they are more targeted. See the video above for more on the age spot research and decide for yourself.
What NAG Skincare Products Do You Suggest
NeoStrata Neck Cream has at least 1 study with very impressive before and after pictures. Proctor and Gamble, maker of Oil of Olay has conducted many studies on N-acetyl glucosamine (NAG) and skin health. Their skincare products which contain NAG are:
Glucosamine Side Effects
Supplements are expected to be safe in healthy people for the most part. Here are a few things to consider when using supplements and creams containing this ingredient. This list is not complete:
- Take less of the supplement for the first week to see how you respond
- Since glucosamine is derived from shellfish, taking supplements may cause allergic reactions in those who are allergic to shellfish. While this is a bit controversial, first speak to your doctor just to be safe. One possible indication of an allergy is having itchy skin.
- Some diabetics have told me glucosamine raised their blood sugar levels. This effect seems to be rare. Most studies do not show any effect on blood sugar or insulin levels. When in doubt, diabetics should monitor blood sugar levels to make sure.
- Stop taking glucosamine supplements at least two weeks before having surgery. Like many supplements, all forms of this compound have blood-thinning properties. They may also interact with blood thinner medications too.
- With creams, apply to a small area first to see if you develop a rash, dry or any skin irritation.
Does It Work?
The research on using glucosamine (specifically the NAG version) to improve skin appearance is interesting. While results will likely vary, some studies show benefits in skin health and age spots and firming the skin. The before and after pictures for the NeoStrata Neck cream were the most impressive to me.
- Glucosamine: an ingredient with skin and other benefits
- Oral N-acetylglucosamine supplementation improves skin conditions of female volunteers: Clinical evaluation by a microscopic three-dimensional skin surface analyzer
- Reduction in the appearance of facial hyperpigmentation after use of moisturizers with a combination of topical niacinamide and N-acetyl glucosamine: results of a randomized, double-blind, vehicle-controlled trial
- A Firming Neck Cream Containing N-Acetyl Glucosamine Significantly Improves Signs of Aging on the Challenging Neck and Décolletage