Skip to content

Why Ectoin May Be the New Niacinamide

Every few years, a skin-care ingredient you’ve heard little to nothing about becomes the “It” ingredient, the one that suddenly seems indispensable in any skin-care routine because everyone has apparently had a collective epiphany about its benefits. In recent years, hyaluronic acid and niacinamide had major moments that started out as a vocabulary lesson, escalated to a phase of buzziness, and evolved to long-term-staple status in our medicine cabinet. The latest to emerge from obscurity to importance is (drumroll, please) ectoin.

We couldn’t help but notice how much ectoin has been touted lately as the must-have active ingredient in skin-care products. Although it’s been floating around in the consciousness of the chemistry community for decades, numerous beauty brands have only recently launched formulas that proudly call out its presence in their marketing materials. So why the seemingly sudden proliferation of ectoin and what is it?

We spoke to dermatologists and a cosmetic chemist to learn all we can about this trendy — and potentially game-changing — ingredient.

What is ectoin?

If you consider yourself to be ingredient-literate in the beauty space, you’ve surely become familiar with amino acids to some extent. Beloved peptides, for example, are short chains of amino acids. Ectoin, discovered in 1985, falls into this category. It’s an amino acid found within and derived from several types of bacteria, but don’t be put off by the word “bacteria.” In this case, it’s actually a very good thing.

Specifically, says board-certified dermatologist Shereene Idriss, MD, “It’s an extremolyte, which is extracted from extremophilic microorganisms. Extremolytes help protect cellular integrity in extreme weather conditions.”

Those extreme conditions, according to cosmetic chemist Krupa Koestline, include salinity, pH, drought, temperature, and irradiation. “Ectoin is a relatively small molecule that readily binds to water molecules to create complexes,” Koestline says. “These complexes then surround cells, enzymes, proteins, and other biomolecules by forming protective, nourishing, and stabilizing hydration shells around them.”

As a result, ectoin is able to protect cell membranes from chemical and physical damage, reducing oxidative stress and cell inflammation.

What are ectoin’s skin-care benefits?

Ectoin is a multitasker. It doesn’t just do it all — it does it all well. But it does have certain talents that are particularly impressive. “Ectoin's superstar ability is protection,” says Dr. Idriss. (We’re picturing a tiny amino acid wearing Secret Service-esque sunglasses.)

Board-certified dermatologist Marissa Garshick, MD, concurs. “Ectoin works to provide a protective shield for the skin,” she says. “By protecting against external stressors, it also offers protection against blue light and pollution.”

But it isn’t just your computer screen against which ectoin defends skin. “It provides UVA/UVB and visible light protection on a cellular level and improves skin damage,” says board-certified dermatologist Aanand Geria, MD. That doesn’t mean it’s a stand-in for sunscreen, though. "Because ectoin is not an active UV filter, it may not be credited as an SPF,” Dr. Geria says. (Currently, the FDA recognizes only 16 mineral and chemical filters as active sunscreen ingredients.)

In addition to being a mini (but mighty) bodyguard for your skin, ectoin has been associated with skin-barrier improvement, transepidermal water loss reduction, and better skin elasticity, according to Koestline. Basically, it offers nearly everything many of us are looking for in a skin-care ingredient.

“It is a natural moisture binder,” says Dr. Geria. “It’s great for smoothing rough and scaly skin and can reduce inflammation. It also works for lines and wrinkles [by providing] long-term hydration.” As we said, it does it all.

What are the best ways to work ectoin into your skin-care routine?

If ectoin is making a great impression, just wait until you see how other ingredients welcome it with open arms. Ectoin plays nicely with almost every imaginable skin-care formula, enhancing the impact of ingredients that share its benefits: “Ectoin can work well with other moisturizing ingredients including humectants like hyaluronic acid or glycerin and barrier-strengthening ingredients like ceramides,” says Dr. Garshick. At the same time, it also helps to minimize the unwanted side effects of other, harsher ingredients. “It works great when paired with ingredients that cause inflammation or redness like AHA, BHA, and retinoids, to help mitigate their side effects,” says Koestline.

As for how to incorporate it into your routine, Koestline says water-based delivery systems and emulsions, such as serums and moisturizers, are the most effective.

Looking for a serum? Dr. Geria is a fan of Biossance Squalane + Copper Peptide Rapid Plumping Serum, which is a total amino acid fest with copper peptides and ectoin. We’re also loving new launches like Peach & Lily Retinal For All Renewing Serum made with sensitive skin in mind and Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare DermInfusions Fill + Repair Serum, which promises to make lines appear less apparent.

And because the scalp is skin, ectoin is not reserved for your face. Aveda is harnessing the benefits with its Scalp Solutions Overnight Scalp Renewal Serum, which helps stave off irritation.

If you already have several serums in your lineup, you might consider incorporating ectoin into your routine with a moisturizer. Dr. Idriss recommends the lightweight, skin-plumping Joanna Vargas Eden Hydrating Pro Moisturizer, and Dr. Garshick loves Andalou Naturals Deep Hydration Multi-Correcting Cream, praising its ability to boost hydration, improve the tolerability of harsh ingredients, and defend against blue light.

These are just the early adopters. Dr. Idriss hopes to see ectoin in more sunscreens due to its protective prowess. Until then, you can expect to see it on more ingredient lists and know that it’s there for a great reason.

This article was originally published Allure.

Share this article: