Learning about new skincare ingredients is like deep sea discovery — there's always something new and unexpected waiting around the corner. We started with hyaluronic acid and vitamin C, moved on to niacinamide and exfoliating acids, and now we’re entering a new period of peptides and other ingredients — anything to make our skin look and feel its very best. That's why we’re welcoming ectoin to the stage.
The amino acid (essentially a building block of protein) is the buzziest ingredient in the market right now thanks to its protective and soothing skin benefits. When I met with Molly Sims for her skincare line, YSE Beauty, she mentioned ectoin as if it were a secret — almost an “if you know, you know” scenario. I always want to be in the know, and maybe you do, too. So if you’re curious about what experts are referring to as “the new niacinamide,” we’ve got you covered.
What is ectoin?
Ectoin is a small, amino acid-derived molecule known as an extremolyte, which is found in microorganisms that thrive in extreme, harsh environments. Said to have been first discovered in a salt lake in Egypt’s Wadi El Naturn desert, where the built-in self-defense molecules helped guard microorganisms against salt-induced dehydration, ectoin can be naturally and chemically derived. It helps to improve hydration and smooth skin while shielding it from pollution and sun damage caused by UVA rays. “Ectoin is like a superhero for your skin,” says Mary Berry, cosmetic chemist, CEO, and founder of Cosmos Labs. She adds that it's particularly good for alleviating dryness and sunburn aftermath. “Plus, it's gentle enough for sensitive skin, making it a must-have in your daily skincare routine.”
What are the benefits of ectoin?
There are so many benefits of ectoin. It has antioxidant properties and acts like a shield against pollution and harsh conditions like extremes of cold or heat (likely due to its place of origin). Dr. Ashley Magovern, board-certified dermatologist and medical director of Dermstore, says it has also been found to protect against UVA rays, but that doesn't mean you can skip your high factor, broad spectrum sunscreen! That's not all: “Due to its moisturizing properties and ability to protect the skin barrier, ectoin may be particularly beneficial to those with skin irritation and inflammation caused by conditions like eczema and atopic dermatitis,” which result in dry, itchy skin. Ectoin repairs the skin’s moisture barrier by balancing its natural water levels for more hydrated, smoother-looking skin.
In addition, ectoin creates a protective layer on your skin's surface, locking in moisture and fighting off environmental stressors. It’s especially great for dry, reactive, or sensitive skin — basically, those who want their skin to be soothed and hydrated. “Ectoin is a gentle ingredient that is safe for all skin types,” adds Dr. Magovern.
How can I use ectoin in my skincare routine?
Ectoin is a miracle ingredient for sensitive and dry skin because it works well as a skin barrier booster. It is a versatile choice for various skincare needs, from soothing post-sun exposure to baby skincare routines. Most important is the percentage of ectoin in the product: “Ectoin should be incorporated into your skincare routine as a topical serum or cream,” says Dr. Magovern, where the concentration is typically between 0.3%-2.0%
The best thing about ectoin is that it’s found in a wide range of products. YSE Beauty Your Favorite Ex Exfoliating Pads boasts the ingredient alongside exfoliating glycolic acid, but it's also found in serums and essences like Peach & Lily Retinal for All Renewing Serum or Hourglass Equilibrium Restoring Essence.
Then there are creams and sunscreens, such as Dr. Loretta Universal Glow Daily Defense Mineral Sunscreen Fluid SPF 40, or Mama Sol 100% Mineral Moisturizing Sunscreen SPF 30. Dr. Magovern recommends applying your sunscreen immediately after moisturizer to lock in hydration. That moisture can also help avoid the white cast which is typical of many mineral sunscreens. Bottom line, there are many ways to incorporate ectoin into your routine.
Can you combine ectoin with other skincare ingredients?
Because ectoin is an amino acid, there are few ingredients it doesn’t work with. In fact, Berry says that it is synergistic with a wide range of skincare ingredients. When paired with antioxidants, like bakuchiol, vitamin C, vitamin E and ferulic acid, for example, it creates a formidable defense against the signs of premature aging and damage caused by UV radiation. When used with hyaluronic acid, it can optimize skin hydration. Using it alongside peptides or retinol will support skin renewal. “These strategic ingredient pairings epitomize a well-rounded approach to skincare, where each ingredient complements the other to deliver targeted and tailored benefits,” Berry explains.
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Ectoin is even found in haircare, like Aveda Scalp Solutions Overnight Scalp Renewal Serum and Guerlain Repairing and Replumping Care Conditioner, as it protects hair from environmental aggressors and maintains optimum water retention for an extended period.
It’s easy to say that an ingredient will change your life or make your skin better overnight, and that’s an entirely personalized experience. But for those who want to boost their winter skincare routine and maximize the benefits of their products, ectoin may just be the perfect ingredient. As always, though, if you have sensitive skin, always patch test before integrating anything new into your skincare routine — even if it sounds as miraculous and healing as ectoin does.
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