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"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 Dr. Dendy Engelman; Dr. Michelle Wong, Science Educator and Content Creator behind LabMuffin; and Alicia Zalka, M.D. and Founder of Surface Deep to get the scoop.
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.
What is Beta Glucan?
According to Dendy 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 moisturiser 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.
Meet the Expert
- Dendy Engelman, MD, FACMS, FAAD, is a board-certified and nationally-acclaimed dermatologic surgeon. She is based in Manhattan, NY, with celebrity clients that include Sofia Vergara, Christina Ricci, and Kristin Chenoweth.
- Ann Son is founder and president of Kosmetic Immunity by JKosmmune, the first immune-boosting skincare brand featuring Beta Glucan.
Benefits of Beta Glucan for Skin
Apparently those anecdotal first-person accounts had real truth to back them up. Dr. 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 stem from the ingredient's barrier-boosting function.
- Barrier Booster: Take it from Ann Son, who says the molecule actually 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 underneath 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 tells us. "Think of them as ringleaders." For this reason, they're especially suited to people who have dry, rough, or cracked skin. "For those who have compromised skin barriers like eczema or dermatitis, beta-glucan can help fight virus and pathogens that pass through your skin barrier."
- Deeply Hydrate The Skin: According to Son, 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 Son says that beta-glucans can do the same job—if not better. "Hyaluronic acid (HA) is very similar in structure, but it has subtle differences that make it less ideal," Son tells us. "Tests have shown beta-glucan is 20% more hydrating than HA at the same concentration. With extra water, beta-glucan can plump up the skin and make the skin feel more supple."
- Anti-Aging Effects: Finally, Son lauds beta-glucans 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 (a unique one), it can bind to many receptors in your body. 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 really 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 do 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 certainly a powerful moisturizing ingredient, and it does the majority of the heavy lifting. We also utilize natural ingredients to maintain the hydration for longer, such as citrus oil and grape-seed oil," Son tells us. "As hyaluronic acid (HA) grew in popularity, following the trend, we believe beta-glucan will soon replace HA as the next predominant skincare ingredient. The problem has been the enormous cost to manufacture—until our breakthrough manufacturing technology."
The Best Products With Beta Glucan
Although Kosmetic Immunity is at the forefront of the beta-glucan skincare trend, there are other brands and products that employ the ingredient. According to Engelman, "it has always been a silent contributor in skincare products." She names Skinceutical's Epidermal Repair ($74) as a notable product. It "contains beta-glucan derived from plants, which helps to maintain a smooth, healthy, and youthful skin appearance and promotes collagen building." It also "aids in skin healing from excessive sun exposure, rashes, mild burns, and wounds."
This Missha product also utilizes beta-glucan to hydrate the skin. Since it's an essence, you should apply it right after you cleanse your face. The lightweight and low-viscosity fluid sinks into skin to hydrate, brighten, and nourish dull and dry skin. Since Missha is a Korean beauty brand, it's just another sign that beta-glucan could be the next buzzy skincare ingredient to take over.
The Route set out to make skincare a lot simpler, trying to get your routine down to one product post-wash. It's amazing, but at the same time, they're not the only brand slimming down these days. What sets The Route apart is the fact their products aren't just formulated to be multitaskers—they also work with your Circadian rhythm.
Ever since it came out, we've been in love with this barrier booster from Acaderma. Because of its hydrating capabilities and its barrier-refining use of beta glucans, this serum the perfect thing to protect your skin before using something irritating like a retinol or even Vitamin C.
When Vintner's Daughter stepped on the scene with their award-winning Active Botanical Serum, we knew we hadn't seen the last of them. But a brand launching with just one product is almost unheard of nowadays. So when the brand came back with their Active Treatment Essence, we had high expectations; they delivered.
REN's Evercalm line is one of the first any beauty editor will recommend to calm skin. It's clean, it's effective, and it's helpful for a lot of different kinds of skin. We're drawn mostly to this mask, which is great for the times you know you've screwed up your skin and need a remedy, and fast.
Sometimes your skin needs an extra layer of protection—like when you're travelling, or on a mountain skiing. Dr. Barbara Sturm created this cream with ski brand Perfect Moment to protect from all adverse conditions. Edelweiss guards your skin, while beta glucans hydrate.
This cult-favorite overnight lip mask utilizes beta glucans in its trademarked Moisture Wrap technology. The technology itself is built so the hydration in the overnight mask is time-released, ensuring you get at least 8 full hours of moisture.