Why ectoin may be the new niacinamide
Iryna Veklich

Why ectoin may be the new niacinamide

Meet the ingredient that wants to be your skin’s bodyguard.

If you haven't heard of ectoin already, chances are, you're about to. Every few years, a skincare ingredient you’ve heard little to nothing about becomes the “It” ingredient, the one that suddenly seems indispensable in any skincare 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 (you probably guessed it) 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:

What is ectoin?

If you consider yourself to be ingredient-literate in the beauty space, you’ve likely 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 stabilising 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 skincare 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. 

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 skincare 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 skincare 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 skincare formula, enhancing the impact of ingredients that share its benefits: “Ectoin can work well with other moisturising 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 minimise 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 are the most effective such as serums and moisturisers.

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. 

Biossance Squalane + Copper Peptide Rapid Plumping Serum

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. 

Aveda Scalp Solutions Overnight Scalp Renewal Serum

Joanna Vargas Eden Hydrating Pro Moisturizer

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 feature originally appeared on Allure.