"Better than hyaluronic acid" is a bold claim to make when speaking to any beauty editor, much less one at Byrdie. We take our hyaluronic acid—and all of our other hydrators—very seriously. So when we're pitched an ingredient like beta-glucans, which have been the subject of some seemingly far-flung claims, we do our research. And honestly, we're pleased with what we found. But beta-glucans don't occur naturally in the human body—so why would we need them? And what exactly are they? We spoke to the experts to get the scoop.
Meet the Expert
Keep reading to learn more about beta-glucan, the ingredient you'll want to incorporate into your skincare routine ASAP.
Type of Ingredient: Hydrator
Main Benefits: Boosts skin barrier, smooths skin, antioxidant
Who Should Use It: In general, people with compromised skin barriers, but anyone can use them.
How Often Can You Use It: You can use it as often as you would like.
Works Well With: Retinols, or anything else dehydrating or irritating. Sunscreens, as it helps reduce issues related to UV exposure.
Don't Use With: When used topically, beta-glucans aren't known to interfere with other ingredients (when taken as a supplement, however, experts caution against taking beta-glucans with immunosuppressants, so talk to your doctor first).
What is Beta-Glucan?
According to Engelman, "Beta-glucans, written as β-glucans, are polysaccharides (multiple sugars, starch, cellulose bonded together) found in yeast, bacteria, fungi, seaweed, and grains like oats." So you can ingest them in food, or they can be extracted and applied to your skin. It feels like we all take so many pills (and it's a lot to keep track of), so we don't blame you if you're more invested in the effects of the latter.
"Beta-glucan is a humectant moisturizer that attracts water to the top layers of skin," Wong says. Accounts on the Internet from people claiming that when used topically the ingredient boosted their hydration levels and skin barrier function were easy to find, drawing us in even further. An ingredient that does all that while decreasing the look of wrinkles, redness, and irritation seems almost too good to be true—or at least like it would be used in skincare more often if it were.
Benefits of Beta-Glucan for Skin
Those anecdotal first-person accounts had real truth to back them up. Zalka also says that they're "known to have as good or better skin humectant and plumping capacity as hyaluronic acid, [and they're] high in antioxidants."
- Prevents damage: She also claims it "may help prevent cell damage associated with aging or sun-exposed skin."
- Repairs skin: Engelman explains, "some studies show that it helps in the treatment of dermatitis, eczema, bed sores, wounds, and burns." These reparative powers may stem from the ingredient's barrier-boosting function.
- Barrier booster: The molecule links together on the surface of the skin to form a thin and undetectable film. This boosts the natural barrier, which protects the sensitive skin beneath from daily environmental stressors. In other words, if redness and irritation are your skin's main issues, then beta-glucan is the new (possible) cure you should try.
- Boosts immunity: What's more is that beta-glucans even go so far as to fend off encroaching bacteria that could disrupt the skin's barrier: "Beta-glucans work by stimulating the macrophages (they work to fight off invading pathogens that can cause infections) and stimulate other immune cells to attack pathogens," Engelman says. "Think of them as ringleaders. For those who have compromised skin barriers like eczema or dermatitis, beta-glucan can help fight viruses and pathogens that pass through your skin barrier." For this reason, they're especially suited to people who have dry, rough, or cracked skin.
- Deeply hydrate the skin: According to the experts, beta-glucans act as a humectant in the skin, which means they lock hydration in and prevent moisture loss. Here's where it gets interesting: Like retinol, hyaluronic acid is one of the beauty industry's most beloved and buzzworthy skincare ingredients as it's been found to hold up to 1000 times its weight in water—thus giving skin deep and lightweight hydration. It's certainly effective and important, though beta-glucans can do the same job—if not better, by plumping up the skin and making the skin feel more supple."
- Anti-aging effects: Finally, beta-glucans are lauded for their anti-aging effects. In fact, she says it's one of the skincare concerns that the ingredient primarily addresses (along with hydration of course). Because it is a sugar molecule, it can bind to various receptors in your body — and depending on where the molecule ends up, beta-glucan has different effects.
- Plumps skin: One study even says that despite the comparatively large molecular size of beta-glucan, it deeply penetrates the epidermis to effectively plump up fine lines and wrinkles.
How to Use It
Good news: if your skin is damaged and in need of some care, you can do a whole routine with beta-glucans, as they have no side effects. It just means selecting the products you want to use. "Beta-glucan comes from oats so it can be used as an oat mask. It can also be found in moisturizers and serums," says Wong.
Keep in mind that while using one or two products with beta-glucan will be hydrating, if you don't use them in your entire routine, you probably won't be getting the full hydrating benefits. Regardless, it pays to integrate the ingredient into one or more of the products on your shelf.
Beta-glucan is a powerful moisturizing ingredient, and utilizing other natural ingredients—such as citrus oil and grape-seed oil—can help maintain hydration for longer.
Is beta-glucan good for skin?
A top contender for fans of hyaluronic acid, "Beta-glucan is a humectant moisturizer that attracts water to the top layers of skin," Wong says.
Does beta-glucan have anti-aging benefits?
Beta-glucan can decrease the look of wrinkles, redness, and irritation over time.
Does beta-glucan work well with retinol?
Yes, beta-glucan works well with any dehydrating or irritating ingredients.
John HE, Price RD. Perspectives in the selection of hyaluronic acid fillers for facial wrinkles and aging skin. Patient Prefer Adherence. 2009;3:225-230. doi:10.2147/ppa.s3183
Pillai R, Redmond M, Roding J. Anti-wrinkle therapy: Significant new findings in the non-invasive cosmetic treatment of skin wrinkles with beta-glucan. Int J Cosmet Sci. 2005;27(5):292-292. doi:10.1111/j.1463-1318.2005.00268_3.x