Maybe you’ve noticed an ingredient called beta glucan swirling around beauty circles. It’s nothing new, but it’s taken on more of a starring role in skin care lately — which is why you may be wondering how it benefits the complexion.
In essence, beta glucan is an uber-moisturizing MVP. That’s why you’ll find it in an increasing number of skin and hair care formulas. And, according to dermatologists, it’s an all-star ingredient you should consider incorporating into your beauty routine — regardless of your skin type. Ahead, experts break down the buzzy beta glucan along with how to use it in your skin care regimen.
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What Is Beta Glucan?
Beta glucan is a sugar complex (a polysaccharide) that’s found in the cell walls of bacteria, yeast, fungi, and some other organisms, explains Dr. Adarsh Vijay Mudgil, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Mudgil Dermatology.
Applied topically, Mudgil explains that beta glucan is a potent humectant — similar to hyaluronic acid — which means it pulls moisture from the air and draws it into the skin. This is largely how it’s able to deliver multiple benefits to the skin.
Benefits Of Beta Glucan For Skin
Beta glucan is known for being gentle, but that doesn’t take away from how effectively it boosts the complexion in various ways.
It’s hydrating: First and foremost, beta glucan is a hydrating superstar that prevents the loss of moisture in the skin, Mudgil explains. In fact, according to Mudgil, the humectant has been said to be 20% more moisturizing than hyaluronic acid.
It smooths the skin: Because of its hydrating and plumping effects, it also has anti-aging benefits and can bind to various receptors in your body to help stimulate collagen growth, says Dr. Lindsey Zubritsky, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist. Studies have found the ingredient to smooth fine lines and wrinkles when applied topically.
It supports the skin barrier: Keeping your skin properly hydrated is key to supporting its natural barrier — which is responsible for locking in moisture and keeping pollutants out, so beta glucan aids in achieving an optimally functioning (and radiant) complexion.
It balances the skin’s microbiome: The molecule helps balance the skin’s microbiome, according to studies, which makes it an immunity-boosting hero. “[Beta glucan] boosts and stimulates our immune system by increasing the presence of a cell called macrophages in our skin,” says Zubritsky, who explains that macrophages help to rid the skin of pathogens like bacteria.
It plumps the skin: According to Mudgil, beta glucan can make the skin look plumper and improve the appearance of fine lines since it’s able to penetrate deep into the epidermis and dermis to improve roughness. TL;DR? It’ll make your complexion look nice and supple.
It protects the skin: Beta glucan also has antioxidant properties, explains Zubritsky, which means it protects against free radical damage that’s caused by sun exposure and environmental stressors (culprits that wreak havoc on a healthy complexion).
All in all, the derms agree that beta glucan is a pretty mild ingredient with plenty of pros and few, if any, cons. “Topically, anyone can really use it without issue,” Mudgil tells Bustle.
Who Should Use Beta Glucan?
As mentioned, most people can benefit from using beta glucan in their skin care regimen. Zubritsky says that beta glucan is a dream for those with especially dry skin, but all types can probably benefit from regular use. But, because it’s such an intense hydrator, board-certified dermatologist Dr. Mona Gohara, M.D. says those with oily skin may want to exercise some caution and use a little less.
How To Use It
Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Jenny Liu, M.D. explains that because beta glucan has a low risk of irritation, it can be used morning and evening — and it pairs well with other harsher actives like retinol and alpha and beta hydroxy acids.
You’ll typically find it in moisturizers, serums, and face masks. If you really want to deliver a hydration K.O. and lock in that moisture, consider following your beta glucan-infused product up with an occlusive (i.e. slugging), suggests board-certified dermatologist Dr. Heather Woolery-Lloyd, M.D. (Occlusives are ingredients that create a barrier on top of the skin to seal in moisture and prevent transepidermal water loss, and include petrolatum, beeswax, and jojoba oil.) Sold on the hydrating hero? Shop it for your routine below.
Shop Beta Glucan-Infused Skin Care Products
The Reparative Lotion
Zubritsky and Liu point to this moisturizer, which contains a blend of beta glucan and gotu kola extract (a super-soothing botanical). It’s designed to protect, hydrate, and soothe while calming inflammation. Liu says her patients love it as a post-chemical peel treatment.
The Plumping Essence
This skin-smoothing essence relies on the hydrating duo of hyaluronic acid and beta glucan to instantly plump your complexion. Apply it between cleansing and applying your serums for a moisture boost.
The Hydrating Serum
Gohara recommends this hydrating serum, which contains a combo of antioxidants, hyaluronic acid, and beta glucan to soothe and nourish the skin’s microbiome.
The Soothing Serum
If you’re looking for a product that will help support and repair the skin barrier, Liu points to this serum, which contains a slew of complexion-boosting superstars: ceramides, lipids, lactic acid, beta glucan, and other actives.
The Brightening Serum
Zubritsky favors this antioxidant-rich serum — featuring peptides, ceramides, and vitamin C as well as beta glucan — to hydrate and soothe the skin as it brightens.
The Moisturizing Cream
Heather Woolery-Lloyd is a fan of this formula, which basically delivers restorative TLC to your skin by way of antioxidants, soothing colloidal oatmeal, and other barrier-supporting ingredients.
Bashir, KMI. (2017). Clinical and Physiological Perspectives of β-Glucans: The Past, Present, and Future. Int J Mol Sci. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5618555/
Du, B. (2013). Skin health promotion effects of natural beta-glucan derived from cereals and microorganisms: a review. Phytother Res. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23494974/
Hong, KB. (2020). Changes in the Diversity of Human Skin Microbiota to Cosmetic Serum Containing Prebiotics: Results from a Randomized Controlled Trial. J Pers Med. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7564969/
Majtan, J. (2018). β-Glucans: Multi-Functional Modulator of Wound Healing. Molecules. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6017669/
Pillai, R. (2005). Anti-Wrinkle Therapy: Significant New Findings in the Non-Invasive Cosmetic Treatment of Skin Wrinkles with Beta-Glucan. International Journal of Cosmetic Science. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1463-1318.2005.00268_3.x
Yanez, DA. (2017). The role of macrophages in skin homeostasis. Pflugers Arch. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5663320/
Dr. Adarsh Vijay Mudgil, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Mudgil Dermatology
Dr. Lindsey Zubritsky, M.D., Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based board-certified dermatologist
Dr. Mona Gohara, M.D., board-certified dermatologist based in Hamden, Connecticut
Dr. Jenny Liu, M.D., board-certified dermatologist based in Minneapolis, Minnesota
Dr. Heather Woolery-Lloyd, M.D., Miami-based board-certified dermatologist