Spotlight on... Ectoin |

3 mins

Spotlight on... Ectoin

With benefits including superpowered protection and hydration, ectoin is the latest trending skincare ingredient. Ellen Cummings gets the expert lowdown

A few skincare ingredients have dominated the beauty world over the last several years, shaping product development and consumer demand. From hydrating hyaluronic acid to acne-fighting salicylic acid, these skincare ingredients have become part of clients’ ever-expanding knowledge and vocabulary. The newest superstar ingredient on the block is ectoin, which has been touted for its protective and hydrating properties and is being included in more professional treatments and products.

What is it?

Ectoin is an extremolyte – a group of small molecules that protect cells living in harsh, inhospitable environments. “Ectoin can be sourced from extremophilic microorganisms living in inhabitable conditions such as salt lakes, the deep sea, deserts, arctic ice and hot springs,” explains Katie Hughes-Dawkins, skin squad training manager at Harpar Grace International, which distributes skincare brand Is Clinical. Ectoin helps plants and organisms living in these extreme environments to survive by forming a protective shield around their cells.

In skincare products, ectoin is typically sourced through biotechnological processes. “These processes involve cultivating and fermenting microorganisms that produce ectoin in controlled laboratory conditions. The ectoin produced through biotechnological methods is often of high purity and quality, making it suitable for use in various skincare formulations,” says Hughes-Dawkins.

How does it work?

Ectoin is a powerful stress-protection molecule, and it can benefit the skin in similar ways to how it protects plants and organisms in the natural world. Laura Ford, head of education at Medik8, explains, “As a cell-protecting ingredient, ectoin’s main mode of action is binding water molecules and creating hydro complexes. These complexes then surround important biomolecules such as cells, proteins and enzymes and form a stabilising hydration shell around them. These biomolecules are then essentially bubble-wrapped to protect them from external stress.”

This action can protect skin from environmental stressors such as heat, free radicals and pollution, as well as reducing inflammation and supporting the skin’s barrier function. It also supports the skin’s microbiome, promoting visibly brighter and healthier-looking skin.

In addition to acting as a shield, ectoin also helps to boost the skin’s hydration levels. “Ectoin is similar to other hydrating ingredients, like hyaluronic acid or glycerin, due to its ability to bind moisture to itself,” adds Ford. “Therefore, once it’s in the skin, it can help to draw moisture from the lower layers of the skin or from the atmosphere into the upper layers of the skin.”

As a CELL-PROTECTING ingredient, ectoin’s main mode of action is binding water molecules and CREATING HYDRO COMPLEXES

How should it be used?

Ectoin is a great skincare all-rounder with antioxidant and hydrating properties, so it’s likely to be suitable for all your clients – it’s been included in formulations for everything from anti-ageing skincare to baby products and aftersun. Custudio d’Avo, Swissline Cosmetics’s global brand director, who is involved in product formulation, explains, “Ectoin has been shown in clinical tests both in vivo and in vitro to pose no allergenic risk. All skin types can benefit from ectoin, but it is particularly useful for those who have difficulties in maintaining adequate hydration levels, or suffer from skin conditions associated with irritation, inflammation and stress. For example, this ingredient beautifully suits those with urban lifestyles, frequent travellers and irregular sleepers.”

Hughes-Dawkins says that ectoin can be included in professional treatments such as facials, chemical peels and microneedling to enhance skin hydration, reduce inflammation and protect against environmental damage. Its barrierboosting abilities also make it a perfect choice for posttreatment skincare regimes in order to speed up the skin’s recovery – meaning it has great retail potential for take-home products. Ectoin is a stable water-soluble ingredient, and can be found in a variety of products including serums, moisturisers, masks and sun protection.

Which ingredients can it be combined with?

While ectoin may be a comprehensive skincare solution compared to other hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid and glycerin, thanks to the added benefit of protection, that doesn’t mean we should forego other humectants entirely. “They all work perfectly well in synergy with one another, so there is no reason to opt for one; good skincare is about formulation, not one hero ingredient,” comments d’Avo.

As well as humectants, ectoin also pairs well with peptides, niacinamide and vitamin C by helping to boost their antioxidant properties. D’Avo recommends using it alongside ingredients that promote cellular turnover, such as retinoids and AHAs, to minimise irritation, while Ford suggests pairing it with SPF for ultimate environmental protection. Hughes-Dawkins adds, “As with any skincare routine, it’s essential to consider individual sensitivities and potential interactions.”

This article appears in May 2024

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May 2024
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