What Is The Hype Around Ectoin?

By Charlie Colville

4 weeks ago

Skincare's latest buzzword, explained


The skincare industry is never quiet about the ingredients it loves – and this year, it seems everyone is busy shouting about ectoin. But what exactly is it? And can it really make that much difference in our skincare routine? We ask the experts.

What is Ectoin?

‘Without being too technical, Ectoin is classed as an extremolyte,’ explains Sharon Hilditch MBE FCGI. ‘These are a small group of molecules that protect plants and organisms, helping them to survive in the harshest, most hostile environments on the planet. Ectoin has been shown to form a protective shield around these things, and it has the same ability to protect the skin too. It works hard to prevent environmental stressors damaging the skin, and keeps the look of the skin barrier strong and healthy.’

‘It’s a natural substance found in certain bacteria that live in extreme environments, like salty lakes and deserts,’ adds Dr Chandni Rajani, a GP and Aesthetic Doctor. ‘These bacteria produce ectoin to protect themselves from harsh conditions such as high salt levels and intense sunlight. Ectoin is used in various products, especially in skincare. It can help to keep skin hydrated, reduces irritation, and can strengthen the skin’s natural barrier, making it popular in creams and lotions designed to soothe and protect the skin.’

And for a bit of background: ‘Ectoin was first discovered in 1985 in a micro-organism in a salt lake within the Egyptian desert,’ says Dr Miriam Adebibe. ‘It gives protection’ by binding water to create a hydration shield, reducing the effects of oxidative stress and inflammation.’

@drsamskincare Are you using this multitasking miracle ingredient in your routine? #skinbarrier #skincare #ectoin ♬ original sound – Dr Sam’s Skincare

What Role Does It Play In Skincare?

In recent years, Ectoin has become a major player in the world of skincare – largely thanks to its aforementioned protective properties. ‘In skincare, ectoin is a multi-tasking compound with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, UV and pollution protection, whilst also hydrating and repairing the skin barrier, to give multiple anti-aging effects,’ agrees Dr Adebibi.

But hydration also plays a key role in its popularity. ‘In skincare, ectoin is celebrated for its hydrating and protective benefits. It can help maintain moisture levels in the skin, making it feel more supple and smooth,’ says Dr Rajani. ‘Ectoin can also protect against environmental stressors like pollution, UV rays, and extreme temperatures, reducing their damaging effects on the skin. Its anti-inflammatory properties can help soothe irritated or sensitive skin, making it potentially helpful for people with conditions like eczema or rosacea. Additionally, ectoin can enhance the skin’s natural defence mechanisms, promoting overall skin health and resilience. As a result, it is often a sought-after ingredient in many creams, lotions, and serums designed to provide long-lasting hydration, protection, and calming effects.’

What Are The Benefits?

Some of the main benefits of ectoin in skincare include:

  • Deep hydration
  • Strengthened moisture barrier
  • Reduced inflammation
  • Reduced irritation
  • Protection against UV damage
  • Protection against pollution
  • Balanced uneven skin tone and reduced dark patches

‘Ectoin can provide good hydration, keep the skin smooth and supple, and can offer protection against environmental stressors like UV rays and pollution,’ summarises Dr Rajani. ‘Its anti-inflammatory properties can help to soothe irritated skin, making it helpful for conditions like eczema and rosacea. Besides skincare, ectoin is used in pharmaceuticals to relieve dryness in eye drops and nasal sprays and in biotechnology for preserving biological samples and developing stress-resistant crops. Its protective and stabilising qualities make it a valuable ingredient across various fields.’

What Is It Made From?

‘Ectoin is derived from extremophilic microorganisms, specifically halophilic bacteria, known for thriving in extreme environments such as salt lakes, deserts and other high-salinity habitats,’ explains Dr Rajani. ‘These bacteria produce ectoin as a natural defence mechanism to protect themselves from environmental stresses like intense sunlight, high temperatures, and high salt concentrations.

‘The compound stabilises proteins and cellular structures within these microorganisms, enabling them to survive and function in harsh conditions,’ she continues. ‘Through biotechnological processes, ectoin is extracted and purified from these bacteria, making it available in various applications, including skincare and pharmaceuticals.’

Does this mean it’s a natural skincare ingredient? ‘Yes,’ says Sharon. ‘Often referred to as “nature’s stress protection molecule”, ectoin is a 100 percent natural molecule, created through a tauniable process, without the use of genetically modified organisms, and to date there have been no negative side effects.’

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How Can We Incorporate Ectoin Into Our Current Skincare Routine?

With this in mind, you might want to start thinking about using ectoin on a daily basis. But where do we start? ‘Incorporating ectoin into your current skincare routine is simple and may enhance the effectiveness of your regimen,’ says Dr Rajani. ‘Start by looking for products that contain ectoin, such as moisturisers, serums or creams, and add them to your daily routine.’

As for the order in which you should apply your products, Dr Rajani recommends you, ‘Start by cleansing your face as usual, then apply a toner if you use one. Follow with a serum or treatment containing ectoin to maximize its protective and hydrating benefits. After the serum, apply your regular moisturizer to lock in the moisture and further protect your skin. If you use sunscreen, ensure it’s the final step in your morning routine to safeguard your skin from UV damage.’

Our experts also assure us that it is completely safe to use everyday, multiple times a day. ‘Ectoin is tolerated well by the skin and can be used daily as an ingredient in your skincare routine,’ says Sharon. ‘It is not like retinol, for example, where there can be disastrous side effects from usage, instead, it is going to immediately get to work on hydrating, plumping, clearing the skin’ and making it healthier.’

Which Skin Types Benefit Most From Using Ectoin?

Those with dry, sensitive skin are thought to benefit most from regular ectoin use. ‘It is particularly helpful for those with dry, reactive, sensitive or more mature skin, as it penetrates deeper layers and helps soothe and hydrate the skin,’ says Dr Adebibe. ‘It will also benefit anyone concerned with premature skin aging due to its anti-ageing effects and protection against environmental stressors like UV radiation and pollution.’

But that’s not to say it won’t have a positive impact on other skin types. ‘It is also suitable for normal and combination skin types, providing hydration without greasiness and protecting against environmental stressors,’ confirms Dr Rajani.

Is It Safe To Use During Pregnancy?

While ectoin is generally considered safe, you can always contact a healthcare professional if you have any questions or worries during pregnancy. ‘It is always best to consult with your healthcare provider to address any concerns specific to your pregnancy,’ adds Dr Rajani. ‘Although ectoin is a naturally derived compound known for its gentle and non-irritating properties, making it suitable for sensitive skin, which can be more common during pregnancy. It functions primarily as a protective and hydrating agent, helping to maintain skin health.’

Featured image: Shiny Diamond, Pexels