Join the ectoin band as your one-stop solution to all skin conditions

The lesser-known, multi-functional skincare ingredient has emerged as a game-changer for its remarkable efficacy in treating a host of skin conditions
Representational image
Representational image

The holy grail of skincare remedies is pretty much set in stone: hyaluronic acid to alleviate dry skin, polyglutamic acid to reduce dullness, niacinamide to combat inflammation, mandelic acid to decrease hyperpigmentation, and so on. A lesser-known ingredient, ectoin, a naturally occurring molecule found in extremophilic microorganisms (organisms that live in extreme environments such as salt lakes and deserts), is now sweeping across self-care shelves as a one-stop solution to a host of skin conditions.

Powerhouse ingredient

Ectoin is not a recent discovery; it was found in 1985 in a microorganism inhabiting a salt lake in Wadi El Natrun, an Egyptian desert. Since then, the ingredient has been used to cure dry eyes, symptoms of seasonal allergies such as redness, itchiness, watery eyes and recovery following eye surgery. “The newfound fascination with ectoin in skincare stems from the need for new and novel treatments to combat the growing burden of skin diseases in India,” says Mumbai-based dermatologist, trichologist and dermato surgeon Dr Mrunal Shah Modi. “When applied to the skin, ectoin fortifies the dermal barrier and protects it from environmental stressors, while ensuring its optimal functioning by reducing transepidermal water loss, keeping the skin sufficiently moisturised,” she says.

Hydrating is just the jumping-off point; people are turning to ectoin for its remarkable anti-inflammatory properties too. The compatibility of the compound with various skin types and its efficacy in the treatment of several conditions resulting in or caused by inflammation, such as eczema, atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, drug or heat rash, bacteria- or fungus-related conditions, or burning and redness as a result of overuse of acids, peels and serums, makes ectoin an effective natural remedy to re-stabilise the skin’s barrier and reduce inflammation. “The multitasking ingredient serves as a shield against growing environmental stressors such as pollution, dry air, humidity, and UVA/UVB radiation irritates the skin,” says Modi.

The application of topical formulations containing ectoin positively influence skin dryness and, consequently, pruritus and dermatitis-specific scores in patients with atopic dermatitis, according to a 2022 study by the journal Dermatology and Therapy. Furthermore, the effectiveness of the compound was seen in infants and children as well. Another study published in the journal Antioxidants in 2020 shows ectoin to have depigmenting and anti-melanogenic effects (an overproduction of melanin, a natural substance responsible for skin pigmentation, among other things, and can lead to hyperpigmentation. Ectoin inhibits this process by suppressing the activity of tyrosinase, the enzyme responsible for melanin production).

In its repertoire of benefits, anti-ageing is another one. Growing research shows that ectoin may play an important role in increasing the activity of antioxidant enzymes and the level of nonenzymatic antioxidants in the body, protecting it against oxidative stress that damages cells, proteins and DNA, which expedites ageing. A 2022 study published in MDPI supports this. Ectoin can protect cells from not only oxidative damage caused by UVA, but also hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) (found in surface water and groundwater, and the atmosphere), by regulating antioxidant-related enzymes and upregulating genes and promoting antioxidant stress resistance of skin fibroblasts (cells within the dermis layer of the skin). “The molecule’s ability to preserve proteins and cell membranes in the skin helps slow down ageing. Because ectoin maintains optimal water balance in the dermis, the skin’s elasticity is preserved, and sagginess and fine lines are prevented,” says Modi.

As a natural moisturiser, ectoin works effectively in skin prep before makeup. “It makes the skin smooth for easy application while improving the performance of the products. It also ensures better longevity of makeup. After cleansing and exfoliating, mix the emollient with a humectant such as honey, glycerin, hyaluronic acid, or sorbitol, or any skin barrier-nurturing ingredient such as niacinamide, allantoin, or ceramides. An ectoin-enriched face lotion is as effective. Massage the skin with it in circular motions to increase blood circulation and detoxification of the skin. Now apply makeup,” says Pune-based dermatologist, esthetician, and dermato surgeon Dr Payal Patil.

Mind out

Even though the natural compound is being hailed as a star ingredient in several skincare formulations, ectoin may not be for everyone, especially those with sensitive or allergy-prone skin. In the presence of limited scientific research on ectoin, it is best to avoid the ingredient if you have a pre-existing autoimmune condition. “A less discussed aspect of this active is its reduced effectiveness when combined with certain other skincare ingredients such as glycolic acid and lactic acid, which have alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) in them or salicylic acid that’s rich in beta hydroxy acids (BHAs). In some cases, allergic reactions were reported when ectoin was combined with retinol. The long-term effects are largely unknown, given that the ingredient has only just sprung into popularity. Also, good quality ectoin is more expensive than other skincare actives due to its elaborate extraction process,” says Patil. But owing to its other benefits, ectoin is enjoying its rightful place under the sun.

Keep in mind

You can buy a face cream, gels, serum, sunscreen, or a mask with ectoin and apply it twice
a day or as and when required

When introducing ectoin into your skincare regime, use a small quantity to let the skin adjust to the new ingredient

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The New Indian Express