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.
Meet the experts:
- Marisa Garshick, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist in New York City.
- Aanand Geria, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist in New Jersey.
- Shereene Idriss, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist in New York City.
- Krupa Koestline is a cosmetic chemist and founder of KKT Consultants.
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.”