Cholesterol (Topical): What Is It, Skin Benefits, Cosmetic Uses & Side Effects

Priya Singh
Fact-Checker: Priya Singh
This article was last updated on: July 14, 2023
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Ever adopted a “deer-in-headlights” expression while scanning the ingredients list on your newest skincare product? It’s an experience that even the most seasoned beauty gurus can find utterly baffling. Between the scientific lingo and cryptic codes, it can feel like you’re reading a different language.

One unanticipated ingredient that might pop up in that puzzling list is none other than Cholesterol. Yes, you read that correctly—Cholesterol. Trust me, this isn’t a case of accidental cross-contamination from your latest diet.

In this article, we’re going to unravel the mystery of Cholesterol in skincare. From its official functions to its skin benefits and potential side effects, we’ll explore why this infamous molecule is playing a starring role in your cosmetic products.

What is Cholesterol In Cosmetics?

When we talk about Cholesterol in a cosmetic context, we are referring to a lipid that is naturally found within the cell membranes of our body. Sometimes listed as Cholest-5-en-3-ol (beta)-, its primary role is to maintain the balance of our skin’s barrier and hydration levels, acting almost like a biological repair kit.

How does it work, you ask? Cholesterol mimics the natural lipids in our skin and complements them by filling gaps in dry or damaged skin cells, thus giving a boost to your skin’s overall hydration and elasticity. The ingredient usually comes into the skincare scene as part of a wider formulation, pairing harmoniously with ceramides and fatty acids to create an impenetrable skincare trio. Although not typically sold standalone, it’s found in varying concentrations, generally between 0.2% to 5% in skincare formulations.

Who Can Use Cholesterol?

As for the ensemble of skin types that can use Cholesterol, the good news is that it’s an all-inclusive party. Whether you’re grappling with dryness, dehydration, or just want to up your skincare game, Cholesterol is a versatile gem. It’s especially beneficial for those with mature skin, given its natural proficiency in enhancing moisture and plumping up the appearance of fine lines.

And for our vegan and vegetarian friends, here’s the catch—you’ll want to check with the product manufacturer. Some brands use plant-derived Cholesterol, which would be a thumbs-up. However, it can occasionally be animal-derived, so doing a bit of ingredient detective work is advised.

As far as usage during pregnancy and breastfeeding is concerned, current skincare wisdom suggests Cholesterol is generally considered safe. But of course, if in doubt, it’s always best to consult with a healthcare professional or dermatologist to make sure it meshes well with your unique needs.

Cholesterol Skin Benefits

Cholesterol may come as a surprise guest in your skincare routine, but it’s one that generously gives. Let’s dive into its major benefits for your skin:

  • Superior Hydration: Cholesterol truly shines in keeping your skin hydrated. It mimics the natural lipids of your skin, slipping comfortably into gaps in your skin cells. The effect? A smoother, well-moisturized skin surface – the key to that sought-after dewy glow. It works by creating a barrier that prevents water loss, thereby helping your skin stay moisturized for longer periods.
  • Fortifies Skin Barrier: Cholesterol plays a vital role in strengthening your skin’s barrier, which is crucial to protect your skin from environmental aggressors such as pollutants and harsh weather conditions. It aids in maintaining skin integrity, providing an extra layer of defense, and enhancing your skin’s resilience.
  • Skin Conditioning: As a formidable skin conditioner, Cholesterol ensures your skin stays comfortable, soft, and smooth. Its emollient properties help soften skin while minimizing roughness and flakiness.

Please remember, like all good things in life, these beneficial effects are not set in stone. They’re transient and require regular usage to sustain. So, make sure to keep Cholesterol consistently in your skincare routine if you want to continue reaping these benefits.

Cholesterol’s Non-active Cosmetic Uses

Cholesterol also gets called to the stage for some noteworthy non-active roles in the realm of cosmetics. These feats add to its allure and make it an indispensable ingredient. Here’s a look:

  • Surfactant – Emulsifying: In this role, Cholesterol acts as the beauty world’s version of a peacemaker. It helps oil and water-based ingredients, notorious for their repellent behavior, mix together seamlessly to form a stable product. It effectively reduces surface tension, resulting in a uniform and smooth texture that makes your skincare products all the more pleasant to use.
  • Light Stabilizer: Cholesterol serves as a light stabilizer, offering some protection to your skin from harmful UV rays. While it isn’t a substitute for your sunscreen, its presence in the formulation can enhance the overall protection your skincare product provides.
  • Viscosity Controlling: Have you ever wondered why some products feel luxuriously thick and creamy while others are light and fluid? Cholesterol has a hand in that. It helps control the thickness or fluidity of the product, making sure that your favorite cream is not too runny or your serum is not too thick. This ensures not only the perfect consistency for application but also effectively holds all the ingredients together.

So, even when not the star of the show, Cholesterol is working tirelessly behind the scenes, contributing to the overall performance, feel, and stability of your beloved beauty products.

Cholesterol Potential Side Effects

In the glamorous world of skincare, it’s essential to remember that reactions to an ingredient can vary wildly from one person to another. Why is that, you wonder? Simply put, our skin is as individual as we are. Everything from our genetic makeup to our lifestyle choices can tweak what is called our ‘skin type’. If you’re unsure, here’s our handy guide to finding your skin type.

Now, let’s talk about potential side effects and interactions with Cholesterol:

  • Minor Skin Irritation: As with any ingredient, some individuals may note minor skin irritation which could entail itchiness, redness, or a slight stinging sensation.
  • Allergic Reaction: Although rare, there is a possibility of an allergic reaction, which might manifest as rash, severe itching, swelling, or difficulty in breathing.

If you do experience any of these side effects while using a product containing Cholesterol, the first line of action would be to stop using the product immediately and cleanse the area thoroughly. If symptoms persist or in case of severe reactions, seeking immediate medical attention is advisable.

But before we raise the alarm, it’s important to note that adverse reactions to Cholesterol are rare. It’s generally considered safe and effective, impressively balancing its myriad benefits with its low reactivity.

That said, before diving headfirst into using a new product, it’s worth taking the time to conduct a patch test. This simple step can help ward off potential unpleasant surprises and ensure the product is compatible with your unique skin type. You can follow our user-friendly patch testing guide to help you through the process.

Comedogenic Rating

In terms of comedogenicity, Cholesterol scores a low 0 on a scale of 0 to 5—0 being non-comedogenic and 5 being highly comedogenic. This implies that Cholesterol is not likely to clog your pores or contribute to breakouts. It’s safe to say that those with acne-prone or breakout-prone skin can welcome this ingredient with open arms. It brings ample benefits without the worry of instigating an uninvited acne party on your skin.


Just like finding the perfect pair of jeans, success in skincare often involves a fair bit of testing and tailoring to fit your unique needs. As with all ingredients, Cholesterol offers an enthralling blend of effects—both active benefits that immediately enhance your skin and non-active roles that contribute to the overall efficacy and feel of your skincare products.

Why would one opt for products laden with Cholesterol? Simply put, it’s an ingredient that surpasses boundaries—offering hydration, fortifying your skin barrier, improving elasticity, conditioning, and also playing non-active roles like emulsifying and controlling viscosity. It’s like having an all-in-one skincare superhero in your arsenal.

Despite its multiple benefits, Cholesterol still remains somewhat of an unsung hero, overshadowed by its more popular counterparts. Its usage in skincare is neither avant-garde nor overly common, making it an intriguing blend of the familiar and the unusual.

As with all good skincare, patience is key to seeing results. You can typically expect noticeable changes after a few weeks of regular use. But remember, consistency is your best friend when it comes to skincare.

Concerned about Cholesterol in your skincare? Don’t fret. Even though Cholesterol shares its name with the lipid that often gets a bad rap for heart disease, in skincare, it’s a wholly different story. It’s generally safe, highly beneficial, and brings a host of skin-benefiting properties to your beauty regimen—a master of many trades, indeed!

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