Dextran: What Is It, Cosmetic Uses & Side Effects

Priya Singh
Fact-Checker: Priya Singh
This article was last updated on: October 14, 2023
Table of Contents

Have you ever found yourself idly studying the back of a skincare product, squinting at an impenetrable list of ingredients like it’s written in an alien language? You’re not alone. Unlocking the secrets of these ingredient lists is like cracking a complex code.

One such mysterious ingredient that often pops up is ‘Dextran.’ With a name that sounds more like a superhero from a comic strip than a component of your moisturizer, it intrigues as much as it baffles.

This article aims to lift the veil on Dextran, exploring just what makes it a mainstay in the formulation of many cosmetics. We will delve into its origins and roles in your cosmetic products and shed light on any side effects it may have.

What is Dextran?

Dextran is a complex carbohydrate or polysaccharide. It’s derived from a bacterium called Leuconostoc mesenteroides and is often used as a binding and viscosity-controlling agent in cosmetic products.

Dextran plays a key role in maintaining the product’s consistency, ensuring it’s not too watery or too thick, which aids in easy usage and application.

It contributes to the luxurious feel of the product on the skin and is commonly found in items like moisturizers, lotions, and serums. With it being what’s classed as a “non-active” ingredient (i.e. a component that doesn’t directly affect the skin’s appearance or structure), it’s used as part of a broader formulation of ingredients.

As for concentration levels, it varies according to the specific product but is generally used around the 0.1-5% mark.

Who Can Use Dextran?

A great thing about Dextran is that it is pretty universal and can be used by all skin types – be it dry, oily, combination, or sensitive. Its ability to control viscosity makes it suitable for various products catering to different skin needs.

As Dextran is derived from bacteria and not from any animal source, it is also suitable for those who follow a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle; it’s a versatile ingredient that aligns with various dietary and lifestyle preferences.

As for its use during pregnancy and breastfeeding, as with any skincare product or ingredient, it’s always best to consult a healthcare professional. However, it’s worth mentioning that Dextran is generally considered safe for use in cosmetics, and there are no known specific warnings against its use during these particular life stages.

Dextran’s Cosmetic Uses

Let’s take an in-depth look at Dextran’s functions in a cosmetic context:

  • Binding Agent: One of Dextran’s primary roles is as a binding agent. In this role, Dextran contributes to the stability and homogeneity of the product. It creates a kind of ‘bridge’ between different ingredients, ensuring they mix well and stay combined. This function is integral to maintaining the efficacy of the product over time. Without an effective binding agent like Dextran, your favorite face cream or lotion might segregate into different layers, disrupting its aesthetic appeal and functional benefits.
  • Viscosity Control: Dextran is also a maestro for controlling the viscosity or thickness of cosmetic products. The beauty of this is that it allows formulators to tailor products to certain needs and preferences. Whether you prefer a robust, rich cream that delivers intense hydration or a light, fluid serum that absorbs quickly, Dextran helps achieve that ideal consistency. It adjusts the thickness of the product, ensuring it’s not too runny that it drips off your hand nor too thick to the point where it’s hard to spread on the skin.

This dual role of Dextran is mainly attributable to its polysaccharide structure. These large, complex carbohydrate molecules are natural pros at holding onto water and forming stable, gel-like structures. This versatility makes Dextran a valuable asset in cosmetic formulation, enhancing the user experience and the overall performance of the products.

Dextran Potential Side Effects

While Dextran is generally considered a safe ingredient in cosmetics, it’s important to remember that skin reactions can differ significantly among individuals. This variation is due to skin type, sensitivity, allergies, and lifestyle. Knowing your skin type can help predict how your skin might react to certain ingredients.

Potential side effects and interactions with Dextran are pretty rare, but they might include:

  • Minor Skin Irritation: Some individuals might experience slight discomfort, including redness, itching or a burning sensation. While these cases are quite rare, it’s important to be aware that they can occur.
  • Allergic Reactions: In people with an existing sensitivity or allergy to Dextran, contact can lead to symptoms such as hives, rash, or other allergic responses.

If you notice any of these side effects while using a product with Dextran, it’s recommended to discontinue use and consult a healthcare professional or dermatologist. They can help identify the cause of the reaction and advise on suitable alternatives if necessary.

Despite these potential side effects, it’s critical to understand that adverse reactions to Dextran are rare. For the vast majority of people, Dextran is a safe and effective ingredient in cosmetic products.

However, as a precautionary measure, conducting a patch test before using a new product is always recommended, particularly if you have sensitive skin. This simple, quick check can help predict how your skin will respond to the product, preventing potentially unpleasant reactions. If you’re unsure how to go about this, here is our helpful patch-testing guide to get you started.

Comedogenic Rating

Dextran is generally considered to have a low comedogenic rating, falling around 0-1/5. This rating signifies that Dextran is non-comedogenic to very mildly comedogenic, meaning it’s unlikely to clog pores and induce acne breakouts.

As a polysaccharide, it contains no oils or waxes that typically contribute to pore blockage. Therefore, Dextran products are generally considered suitable for those prone to acne or breakouts.

Conclusion

In the skincare world, some ingredients create immediate visible changes, while others work behind the scenes to support the overall product formulation. Dextran falls into the latter category. As a non-active ingredient, it might not directly influence your skin’s appearance or texture, but it’s critical to the overall experience and efficacy of the product.

Part of Dextran’s appeal lies in its ability to bind ingredients together and control product viscosity. These qualities make it a crucial component in many cosmetics, ensuring a consistent and easy-to-apply product.

Despite its significant roles, Dextran may not be a household name like hyaluronic acid or retinol. It’s more of an unsung hero, quietly performing its duties within the product formulation. Yet, it shares similarities with other polysaccharides used in cosmetics for their binding and viscosity-controlling abilities.

If you’ve been concerned about finding Dextran in your cosmetics list of ingredients, you can breathe easier. It’s generally considered safe and effective for all skin types, with a low risk of side effects. Remember, it’s an ingredient that works behind the scenes to enhance your skincare product’s texture and application, making your skincare routine that much more enjoyable!

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