Dithiolane-3-Pentanoic Acid or D3PA

D3PA stands for dithiolane-3-pentanoic acid. LifeCell claims this ingredient boosts levels of antioxidants Vitamin C, E, and glutathione in the body, and is a potent anti-oxidant in its own right.

These claims are well-proven in science through the study of a close chemical relative, alpha lipoic acid. Alpha lipoic acid is well-known for its anti-aging and powerful antioxidant effects. According to webmd.com, alpha lipoic acid can provide excellent protection against damaging free radicals and diminishes fine lines, giving skin a healthy glow.

In a study conducted by Oregon State University, alpha lipoic acid was found to increase the levels of the antioxidant glutathione in vitro and was able to reduce the oxidized form of coenzyme Q10 (which is an extremely powerful anti-oxidant and an ingredient in LifeCell). In plain English, this meant that the researchers at OSU were able to prove the antioxidant regenerating powers of alpha lipoic acid in a test tube. However, they only tested it in a test tube, not in the human body.

D3PA, like its chemical cousin alpha lipoic acid, is both fat and water soluble, giving it excellent cell penetration. D3PA is a naturally occurring antioxidant, which, according to the Lipid Handbook, is found in liver cells and in microorganisms. So why did they use D3PA instead of alpha lipoic acid?

It’s because of the second claim of LifeCell, that D3PA stimulates skin cells to produce nitric oxide. Why is this important? In 1998, Furchgott, Ignarro, and Murad won the Nobel Prize in medicine for discovering that nitric oxide dilates capillaries, thus increasing blood flow. This discovery has led to many wonderful advanced in neural and cardiac medicine, in which diseases were cured through increased blood flow to the affected area.

What was intriguing about LifeCell is that they claimed that application of D3PA to the skin stimulated nitric oxide production in the epidermis. This resulted in dilated capillaries in facial skin and brought nutrients to the skin surface, giving a skin a youthful glow and reducing skin roughness.

LifeCell cites this study:  Karolinska Hospital in Sweden conducted studies on D3PA's anti-aging & anti-wrinkle effects on women's facial skin.  The average age of these women was 54.4 years.  After 12 weeks of application of D3PA, their faces showed a "statistically significant improvement".  Results on all women showed a decrease in skin roughness of an average 50.8% and a dramatic improvement in the "clinical characteristics related to photo-aging".

I had to investigate this for myself and see what the science world had to say about topical application of D3PA and nitric oxide production. First, I looked to see if this hospital in Sweden actually exists: it does. Karolinska University Hospital is world-renowned and uses cutting edge medicine to advance medical technology.

I found a study published on pubmed that showed that D3PA was able to convey nitric oxide. That is, D3PA was able to keep, to carry, and then to generate nitric oxide and it might display pharmacological effects as vasodilators.

In addition, according to the Lipid handbook, the nitro groups on D3PA are probably derived from nitric oxide and these compounds may be signal transducers for the vascular effects of nitric oxide. That basically means that D3PA does have the correct chemical structure to cause capillaries to dilate, and that LifeCell is not just blowing smoke about the capabilities of the molecule.

So, does it actually work? There is no reason why it shouldn’t. D3PA can easily penetrate skin cells, and the effect of nitric oxide on vasodilation is well published.