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How Skin Care Can Improve Autophagy


The physiology of skin is just as complex as the other organs in our body, perhaps even more so as it is constantly challenged by external stressors and must maintain the skin barrier against these stressors. Maintenance of the skin barrier requires efficient communication between many cell types including long-lived stem cells, neurons, and fibroblasts as well as short-lived, fast metabolizing cells like keratinocytes and sebocytes in sweat glands.Autophagy plays a critical role in supporting the cell’s ability to remove and repurpose waste throughout the cell’s life span [1]. It is especially critical for long-lived cells as they must persist in the face of stressors for much of the duration of our adult lives. Let’s dig in deeper so we can learn about the benefits of boosting autophagy and which skin care activities will help us do it. 


Autophagy literally means auto-(self) and -phagy (eating); it’s the cellular self-digestion of any damaged molecules (think enzymes, membrane lipids, and even entire organelles) which can be easily reused in their immediate environment. Damaged molecules are sequestered in the cytosol and shuttled to the lysosome (lys- meaning loosen or divide) where they are further degraded into smaller biological units.

Efficient autophagy is largely responsible for staving off signs of aging and promoting healthy, functioning skin [2]. Autophagy is closely intertwined with other maintenance mechanisms that control cellular organelle turnover, proteostasis (generation and removal of proteins), nutrient sensing, and genomic instability which contributes to cancer formation. Only recently has gerontological dermatology began to recognize that autophagy is just as important in skin health as it is in other organs. 


Because autophagy is a critical, wide-reaching biological process, it can be targeted many different ways.We have only begun to study actives in the context of autophagy enhancement but so far, there are some promising candidates. Notably,many of these ingredients have been used in skin care before but were previously highlighted for activation of other mechanisms. They include resveratrol, glucosamine, quercetin, and berberine [3–6]. There are also naturally derived ingredients and lab enhanced variations of them including lotus flower extract, black hoof mushroom, amla, and honokiol [7–10]. Keep in mind that assessment of the effectiveness of the more natural ingredients has largely been performed in non-dermal contexts so if you find skin care items with these actives, thoroughly read the company’s research and description of each product and contact them if you still have questions. Our goal is to help you navigate the clean beauty landscape safely and with the result of healthy, glowing skin. Autophagy is a multidimensional cellular mechanism essential to this goal. 


1. Eckhart L, Tschachler E, Gruber F (2019) Autophagic Control of Skin Aging.Front Cell Dev Biol 7,.

2. Guo Y, Zhang X, Wu T, Hu X, Su J, Chen X (2019) Autophagy in Skin Diseases.DRM 235, 380–389.

3. Tian Y, Song W, Li D, Cai L, Zhao Y (2019) Resveratrol As A Natural Regulator Of Autophagy For Prevention And Treatment Of Cancer.Onco Targets Ther 12, 8601–8609.

4. Chiu H-W, Li L-H, Hsieh C-Y, Rao YK, Chen F-H, Chen A, Ka S-M, Hua K-F (2019) Glucosamine inhibits IL-1β expression by preserving mitochondrial integrity and disrupting assembly of the NLRP3 inflammasome.Scientific Reports 9, 5603.

5. Hasima N, Ozpolat B (2014) Regulation of autophagy by polyphenolic compounds as a potential therapeutic strategy for cancer.Cell Death & Disease 5, e1509–e1509.

6. Xu Z, Feng W, Shen Q, Yu N, Yu K, Wang S, Chen Z, Shioda S, Guo Y (2017) Rhizoma Coptidis and Berberine as a Natural Drug to Combat Aging and Aging-Related Diseases via Anti-Oxidation and AMPK Activation.Aging Dis 8, 760–777.

7. Laughlin T, Tan Y, Jarrold B, Chen J, Li L, Fang B, Zhao W, Tamura M, Matsubara A, Deng G, Wang X, Hakozaki T (2020) Autophagy activators stimulate the removal of advanced glycation end products in human keratinocytes.J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol 34 Suppl 3, 12–18.

8. Huang K, Chen Y, Zhang R, Wu Y, Ma Y, Fang X, Shen S (2018) Honokiol induces apoptosis and autophagy via the ROS/ERK1/2 signaling pathway in human osteosarcoma cells in vitro and in vivo.Cell Death & Disease 9, 1–17.

9. Teimouri E, Bharadwaj P, Rainey-Smith S, Fraser P, Verdile G, Martins R (2015) Amla enhances autophagy and modulates beta amyloid metabolism in an in vitro model of Alzheimer’s disease.ECU Posters.

10. Kim I-H, Chung M-Y, Shin J, Han D (2016) Protective Effects of Black Hoof Medicinal Mushroom from Korea, Phellinus linteus (Higher Basidiomycetes), on Osteoporosis In Vitro and In Vivo.International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms 18, 39–47.