Get Juiced!, a photo by Dreamseller Photography on Flickr.

I’ve never been a big fan of L-carnitine in skin care. L-carnitine has long been in cellulite creams, but when it recently began to show its molecular face in facial skin care creams, I decided that I had to say something.

An Antioxidant That Causes Oxidation?

The reason dermatologists and other skin care experts love other antioxidants so much is because they sequester potentially damaging free radicals by a number of different pathways. It is true L-carnitine has demonstrated antioxidant activity, superior even to vitamin E (Life Sciences, 2006). Unfortunately, L-carnitine also induces free radical formation. Oral consumption of L-carnitine has been shown to induce in vivo lipid peroxidation (Metabolism, 2002). According to skin scientist Dr. Daniel Yarosh, Ph.D., “As [carnitine] turns up energy production it also increases free radicals, which damage the machinery that gives it more energy…Unfortunately, and contrary to the claims made by some of the dermatologists […], carnitine is not a very effective antioxidant, and it can’t stop the free radical process.”

I look like L-carnitine like a policeman who robs a bank and then arrests another bank-robbing assailant later; clearly, he does his job, but is doing harm as well.

What about for Weight Loss?

L-carnitine naturally is like the “Fat Bus” into your cells: L-carnitine transports long-chain acyl groups from fatty acids into the mitochondrial matrix, so the fatty acids can be broken down to acetyl coA and made into energy through the fatty acid cycle. It has been demonstrated L-carnitine supplements can reduce fat mass, increase muscle mass, and reduce fatigue, all of which may contribute to weight loss, though indirectly (University of Maryland, 2011). Just be aware superloading is not effective: Studies have shown saturation occurs at 2000 mg of L-carnitine, so you are taking more than that, you won’t be providing any additional benefit (Alternative Medicine Review, 2005).

Furthermore, this brings me to another reason I don’t buy L-carnitine skin care creams: far less L-carnitine is made available transdermally with these creams than through a supplement.  So I really don’t see the point.

L-carnitine is also available in a number of different foods, including nuts and seeds. Most non-vegan/non-vegetarians consume 20-200 mg of L-carnitine daily without supplementation; for a comprehensive list of foods and L-carnitine content, visit the Wikipedia L-carnitine page.

Bottom Line

L-carnitine may improve exercise tolerance and slightly reduce fat mass when used as an oral supplement for months at a time. However, the evidence suggesting L-carnitine decreases the level of cellulite when applied topically is minimal at best right now. And if you’re looking for an antioxidant, L-carnitine is definitely not a first-line choice, because it both sequesters and induces oxidative free radicals. I personally would not buy a cream with L-carnitine.

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