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What’s the Role of Carrageenan in Skin Care?

Words By Martina

Martina is a wellness and skin-health writer, blogger, teacher, mother to twins and world traveler (not necessarily in that order). She believes that life is all about balance and has a special way of taking complicated topics and making them a pleasure to read. Her words are honest, informative and warm. Learn more about your skin health from Martina.

Carra-what? Yes, carrageenan is an ingredient that you may or may not have seen in your skin care products. Believe it or not, you have almost certainly eaten it! If you’re feeling confused, you won’t be for long. Let’s find out what carrageenan is doing in your food, but more importantly, what it’s doing in your skin care.

What Is Carrageenan?

Carrageenan is a natural ingredient that comes from a species of red seaweed (Chondrus crispus) called Irish Moss. It is extracted from the moss and then used as a food additive in products such as yogurt, nut milks, salad dressings and ice cream. It is often used as a vegan-friendly substitute for gelatin and helps to give food a smooth, creamy texture. It’s also a good stabilizer which keeps ingredients from separating from each other. If carrageenan is used as a food additive, what is it doing in your skincare products?

Carrageenan and Its Role in Cosmetics and Skin Care

As a plant-based gelatin-like substance, carrageenan is also used in skin care products as an effective emulsifier to create a smooth, creamy texture. It keeps skin hydrated with its water-binding ability, keeping the moisture where it belongs - in your skin.

As you can see, it’s not just food that benefits from carrageenan. It’s also praised for its role as a thickener, an emulsifier as well as a moisturizer. It can be found in products such as toothpaste, shampoos, conditioners, lotions and moisturizers. Because of its ability to give a product a smooth and luxurious texture, it’s very useful in creating a cream or lotion that is easy and pleasant to apply on your skin. As an emulsifier, it prevents oil-based and water-based ingredients from separating. While carrageenan makes a great emulsifier and thickener, it is also a good moisturizer, helping to lock-in your skin’s own moisture.¹ On top of that, it is 100% plant based which is another appealing feature in today’s skin care market.

Why Do Some People Want to Avoid Carrageenan?

It’s always important that research is done on ingredients so that we know what we are using is safe for us. With this in mind, there was a small study done in 1997 that linked carrageenan to possible digestive issues.² However, it has been found that the tests were done with a form of carrageenan that is not approved by the FDA called poligeenan (also known as degraded carrageenan). This version of synthetic carrageenan is made by subjecting seaweed to intense temperatures and then boiling it in acid.² This confusion has led to some people believing that the carrageenan used in food and cosmetics is the same, which is where the misunderstanding lies.

To lay your worries to rest, carrageenan is on the FDA safe list and is considered so safe that it is used in infant formula. If it is safe for babies, it is safe for you.

Plant-based Goodness for Your Skin

When you look at natural skin care products like Skin MD Natural, you will see that they contain carrageenan because it is safe, non-comedogenic (won’t clog pores), it’s plant based but most of all, it is beneficial for the skin. It is good to be aware of the research that is done on ingredients that you are using on your skin and to be aware of the accurate facts. When it comes to carrageenan in skin care, there are no risks. There is only smoothing, moisturizing, plant-based goodness to be found.

¹ https://www.skincarelab.org/carrageenan-in-skincare/

² https://www.foodingredientfacts.org/facts-on-food-ingredients/sources-of-food-ingredients/carrageenan/

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