You've most likely heard of moisture-enabling ingredients glycerin and hyaluronic acid, but we're willing to bet you've never heard of isopropyl myristate. Though, if you were to do a quick scan of the skincare and personal care products currently in your bathroom, we're also willing to bet that it's in a large percentage of them.
An emollient ingredient, isopropyl myristate helps to ensure that moisture stays locked in. But, unlike other emollients, the benefits don't stop there. Isopropyl myristate is unique in that it's able to enhance the penetration of other ingredients, not to mention it's essential when it comes to formulating and creating products that are cosmetically elegant.
Meet the Expert
- Sapna Palep, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and founder and medical director at Spring Street Dermatology in New York City.
- Dan Belkin, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist at the New York Dermatology Group.
- Sheel Desai Solomon, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist in Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina.
Ahead, board-certified dermatologists Sapna Palep, MD, Dan Belkin, MD, and Sheel Desai Solomon, MD, explain what sets this ingredient apart from its moisturizing counterparts.
Type of Ingredient: Emollient, though it also acts as a thickening agent and lubricant in beauty products.
Main Benefits: Locks in hydration, enhances the penetration of other ingredients, thickens formulas, and makes those with a high oil content feel silky rather than greasy.
Who Should Use It: Isopropyl myristate is ideal for anyone with normal to dry skin looking for moisturization benefits, according to Palep.
How Often You Can Use It: For the best results, follow the directions on the product it's found in, though daily or twice daily use is generally fine.
Works Well With: Isopropyl myristate works well with an assortment of active ingredients, says Solomon, which is why it's found in so many different types of products and formulas.
Don't Use With: Because it does enhance penetration, it’s important to assess the other ingredients in the formula and whether this increased penetration can cause unexpected side effects such as irritation, cautions Palep.
What Is Isopropyl Myristate?
A synthetic oil, isopropyl myristate is made up of isopropyl alcohol—a propane derivative—and myristic acid, a naturally-occurring fatty acid, explains Palep. While it's not necessarily a solo skincare star that you'll find touted as a hero ingredient, it's a popular cosmetic ingredient in a wide array of beauty products, found in everything from aftershave to anti-perspirants to anti-aging creams. Why so popular? First, there are the formulation benefits. "By thickening formulas, it gives products a denser texture and also improves the overall texture of those with a high oil content to be silky rather than greasy," says Palep. And while that's a major win for the labs and scientists making your beauty products, it does have skincare benefits for you, too. While there are plenty of emollients on the market, isopropyl myristate has the added benefit of enhancing the penetration of other ingredients (more on that below).
Benefits of Isopropyl Myristate For Skin
- Softens the skin: As an emollient, it helps soften and smooth dry skin, which is why this is a choice ingredient for those with dry or flaky skin.
- Enhances the penetration of other ingredients: According to Belkin, the exact mechanism by which this works isn't fully clear, but it's thought that isopropyl myristate changes the structure of the stratum corneum, the most external layer of the skin, making it easier for active ingredients to absorb. In turn, this can make the skincare you're using more effective.
- Improves product texture: This benefit doesn't relate exactly to the skin, but isopropyl myristate can make skincare products have that lush, creamy, but not oily feel, according to Palep.
Side Effects of Isopropyl Myristate
There's one big caveat with this ingredient: "The one documented drawback to isopropyl myristate is that it can clog pores," notes Solomon. Translation: Those with acne or who are prone to breakouts should steer clear. And while it's generally a good thing that it enhances penetration of other ingredients, this can also prove to be a double-edged sword. "Because it is a penetration enhancer, it may make irritation from other active ingredients more common," cautions Belkin. He also points out that those with rosacea or particularly sensitive skin should be extra cautious about formulas that contain isopropyl myristate along with powerful actives that may be irritating to begin with, such as retinoids and acids. And, as with any other ingredients and products, you should patch test in case of an allergy.
How to Use It
Because it's found in so many different products and formulations, your best bet is to follow the instructions on any particular product. Still, you're likely to be limited more by the actives in a product than minor ingredients like isopropyl myristate, notes Belkin.
The Best Products With Isopropyl Myristate
Non-greasy and non-sticky, Solomon is a fan of this formula. With micro-droplets of Vaseline, it helps heal dry skin, though still feels lightweight. Isopropyl myristate aids in those hydration benefits, plus, the, "non-aerosol, continuous spray lotions dispenses evenly for all-over coverage," she says. Not to mention, it takes only seconds to apply—a win in our book.
Palep recommends this eye cream for retinol newbies, since it's gentle yet still works. "I think it's the most effective over-the-counter retinol eye cream," she says. Credit isopropyl myristate for helping to improve the penetration of the popular wrinkle-fighting, line-smoothing ingredient.
Isopropyl myristate is one of only five ingredients in this serum. It promises to boost the efficacy of the star of the show: 15 percent of a stabilized version of skin-brightening vitamin C. Top tip: Allow it to soak into skin for five to 10 minutes, transforming from an oily to dry feeling, before layering any other products on top.
When you need an intense, heavy-hydrating moisturizer, reach for this rich formula. Specially formulated to protect your skin for up to 24 hours, according to the brand, isopropyl myristate is one of the ingredients meant to help lock in moisture.
For ultra-dry or compromised skin (think post-procedure or when you're dealing with flaking and cracking), this healing balm is a prime choice. Emollients such as squalane—and, you guessed it, isopropyl myristate—are meant to hydrate and soften skin, while petrolatum, an occlusive ingredient, seals in moisture.
Made with coconut, sweet almond, and sunflower seed oils, this body hydrator packs a nice hit of moisture, and isopropyl myristate promises to keep the formula from ever feeling greasy, leaving skin silky and soft. While it contains no artificial or added fragrance (a win for those with sensitive skin), it does contain ylang ylang oil, which makes for a subtle-yet-sophisticated light floral scent.
What does isopropyl myristate do for skin?
It is a moisturizer; it enhances the penetration of other ingredients, thickens formulas, and makes those with a high oil content feel silky rather than greasy.
Who should avoid isopropyl myristate?
"The one documented drawback to isopropyl myristate is that it can clog pores," notes Solomon. Translation: Those with acne or who are prone to breakouts should steer clear.
How often should I use isopropyl myristate?
For the best results, follow the directions on the product it's found in, though daily or twice daily use is generally fine.
Eichner A, Stahlberg S, Sonnenberger S, et al. Influence of the penetration enhancer isopropyl myristate on stratum corneum lipid model membranes revealed by neutron diffraction and 2H NMR experiments. Biochim Biophys Acta Biomembr. 2017;1859(5):745-755. doi:10.1016/j.bbamem.2017.01.029
Czarnowicki T, Malajian D, Khattri S, et al. Petrolatum: barrier repair and antimicrobial responses underlying this "inert" moisturizer. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2016;137(4):1091-1102.e7. doi:10.1016/j.jaci.2015.08.013