Any skin-care aficionado is likely familiar with the top-billed active that make up a solid routine: Vitamin C, hyaluronic acid, retinol, niacinamide, ceramides, peptides… the list goes on and on. If you’ve already got your regimen down pat, the thought of adding yet another “important” ingredient into the mix may feel redundant (and tedious, and unnecessary), but there’s been a buzzy new addition to the skin conversation of late that may just make you want to reconsider.
Ectoin has been popping up on an increasing number of product labels of late, and dermatologists say it’s for good reason. The gentle, multi-tasking hero is safe for all skin types and delivers an XL list of benefits—including hydrating, protecting, and strengthening skin. If you’re looking to take your routine to the next level, here’s why ectoin is the ingredient to help you do exactly that.
What is ectoin?
“Ectoin is a small molecule that readily attaches to water molecules. It is naturally occurring in certain types of bacteria that live in extreme environments, and is also referred to as an ‘extremolyte’ for this reason,” explainsCarmen Castilla, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. The organisms, or bacteria, that dwell in these extreme environments (i.e. hot springs, deep ocean, salt lakes) depend upon ectoin to protect their cells from chemical and physical damage, says Connie Yang, MD, a cosmetic dermatologist at PFRANKMD.
Due to its smaller molecular structure and ability to bind to water molecules, this particular amino acid helps to form protective hydration shells around your cells and other biomolecules. “The action helps the skin retain moisture and strengthens its barrier function, making it more resilient to environmental stressors, such as UV radiation and pollution,” says Loretta Ciraldo MD FAAD, a Miami-based board-certified dermatologist and founder of Dr. Loretta Skincare.
In other words, ectoin acts as a shield, protecting your skin from daily stressors while also helping to keep a healthy moisture barrier. Though it may sound like there are some similarities between ectoin and hyaluronic acid, which also binds to the skin and helps to retain water, they are indeed, different. “Like hyaluronic acid, it has the ability to bind water and lock in moisture. But it also has anti-inflammatory properties that help soothe damaged and irritated skin, a benefit of another popular skincare ingredient, niacinamide,” says Dr. Yang. “Its antioxidant properties are what make it stand out, as it offers additional protection from environmental stressors.”
The benefits of ectoin
“Ectoin is a great multitasker and offers the benefits of multiple skin-care ingredients in one, “ says Dr. Yang.
1. Maintains skin hydration
“Ectoin acts as a very potent moisturizer—it can bind water and protect from transepidermal water loss,” says Dr. Castilla. “The complexes that it forms can also help to protect from environmental stressors and support the skin barrier.” The fact that the ingredient is able to draw water into the skin means it’s a humectant, which any dermatologist will tell you is critical for keeping skin hydrated.
2. Protects against irritants and reduces inflammation
Thanks to its barrier-strengthening abilities, ectoin prevents external irritants from entering the skin. “This leads to reduction of inflammation and redness in the skin,” says Dr. Yang.
3. Reduces the effects of UV rays
“Ectoin is known for its ability to boost protection against UVB exposure, UVA rays, and visible light, including blue light,” says Dr. Loretta. What’s more, because of the ingredient’s previously mentioned hydrating properties, “it prevents sun-induced dehydration.” 4. Prevents fine lines and wrinkles Considering sun damage is the number one culprit behind visible signs of skin aging, its antioxidant properties help defend against fine lines and wrinkles. “It has antioxidant properties that protect against free radicals in the environment that can damage collagen and elastin in the skin,” says Dr. Yang.
4. Helps you tolerate other skin-care actives
Since ectoin helps to support the skin barrier, Dr. Castilla says it will help offset the unwanted effects of irritating actives, such as chemical exfoliants or retinoids. “Ectoin works well for any skin type. Due to its ability to help with hydration, it works particularly well with dry or sensitive skin types. Since it is not irritating, it can easily be incorporated into a daily skin-care routine,” she says.
How to incorporate ectoin into your routine
Ectoin pairs well with all of your other skin-care ingredients (there actually aren’t any actives it can’t be applied in tandem with), and can be used every day. “It can be incorporated into nearly any step of your skin-care routine,” says Dr. Yang. “If using it in serum form, it should be applied as the first step of your routine. If using it in a moisturizer form, it should be used on top of other serums to lock in moisture.” Dr. Castilla adds that there’s no need to replace other actives with the ectoin, but rather you can use it as a synergistic complement to what you’re already slathering on.
Shop ectoin skin care
YSE, Your Favorite Ex Exfoliating Pads — $72.00
These gentle, leave-on exfoliant pads contain a combination of glycolic acid, PHAs, and ectoin to help retexturize and brighten your skin. Ectoin helps to improve damaged or irritated skin by repairing the skin barrier. Suitable for sensitive skin.
Dr. Loretta, Universal Glow Daily Defense Mineral Sunscreen Fluid SPF 40 — $65.00
For additional protection, incorporating ectoin into your daily sunscreen is truly your last line of defense. This ultra-lightweight formula includes a potent antioxidant called Lipochroman®, ectoin, and zinc. The sunscreen’s silky texture absorbs quickly and works with all skin tones and types. “In Universal Glow Daily Defense, we have incorporated ectoin to enhance the product’s effectiveness in safeguarding the skin from the sun’s harmful rays,” says Dr. Loretta.
Dr. Jart +, Ceramidin Ectoin-Infused Face Cream For Very Dry Skin — $48.00
“The combination of ceramides and ectoin in this gentle formulation is very moisturizing for dry and sensitive skin types,” says Dr. Castilla.
Dr. Barbara Sturm, The Better B Niacinamide Serum — $145.00
This serum contains a combination of pure vitamin B3 (niacinamide) and ectoin, amongst other ingredients. Touted as a “skin perfector,” it reduces pore size and refines the overall appearance of the skin for a more radiant complexion. The serum also includes Marine Exopolysaccharides (Plankton), which work in combination with ectoin to further strengthen the skin barrier and boost hydration.
Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare, Derminfusions Fill + Repair Serum with Hyaluronic Acid — $75.00
Considered a needle-free alternative to injectables, the serum helps to fill fine lines while firming and plumping the skin. The product’s “MicroCelle Delivery” system carries an infusion of hyaluronic acid, peptides, niacinamide, and ectoin deep into the skin for optimal absorption of the product. It helps to hydrate and restore your moisture barrier while controlling redness and irritation.
StriVectin, Advanced Retinol Nightly Multi-Correct Serum — $99.00
Formulated with ectoin to offset any possible irritation from retinol, this serum is also boosted with polyglutamic acid and ashwagandha to prevent further dryness or irritation. Expect to see improvements with fine lines and wrinkles and overall healthier-looking skin with continued use.
Dermalogica, Powerbright Dark Spot Serum — $99.00
This vegan serum helps to fade any dark spots or discoloration, while protecting your skin barrier at the same time. Made with a blend of niacinamide, hexylresocinol, and shiitake mushroom, expect more even skin tone with consistent use.
ZO Skin Health, Renewal Crème — $120.00
This fragrance-free cream is lightweight and clinically proven to nourish stressed skin. Formulated with a combination of acetyl hexapeptide-8, lactococcus ferment lysate, polyglutamic acid, and, of course, ectoin to support a protective skin barrier.