Glycosaminoglycans: What Is It, Skin Benefits & Side Effects

Priya Singh
Fact-Checker: Priya Singh
This article was last updated on: May 10, 2023
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Have you ever found yourself staring at the ingredients list on the back of a cosmetic product, feeling overwhelmed and confused by the long, complex names of the various ingredients? You’re not alone. With so many scientific terms and abbreviations, it’s not easy to make sense of what exactly you’re putting on your skin.

One such ingredient that’s sometimes found within cosmetic products is Glycosaminoglycans. This ingredient may not be as widely known as some others, but it still plays a significant role in the world of skincare and cosmetics.

In this article, we will take an in-depth look at Glycosaminoglycans, exploring its properties, functions, and potential side effects.

What are Glycosaminoglycans?

Glycosaminoglycans, also known as mucopolysaccharides or GAGs, are long-chain sugar molecules that play a crucial role in maintaining and supporting the structure of various tissues in our body, including the skin. In a cosmetic context, Glycosaminoglycans can be derived from sources such as chondroitin sulfate and dermatan sulfate.

The primary functions of Glycosaminoglycans in cosmetic products are film-forming, skin-conditioning, and emollient properties. By creating a protective barrier on the skin’s surface, GAGs help retain moisture and maintain hydration, leaving the skin feeling soft, smooth, and supple. They also can bind with water molecules, which can provide additional benefits for skin hydration and plumpness.

Glycosaminoglycans can be found in various concentrations depending on the specific product and formulation. They are typically included as part of a broader blend of ingredients in skincare and cosmetic products, rather than being available as a stand-alone ingredient. However, you might come across some specialized serums or treatments that feature Glycosaminoglycans in higher concentrations to capitalize on their skin-boosting effects.

Who Can Use Glycosaminoglycans?

Glycosaminoglycans are suitable for a wide range of skin types, as their primary functions involve hydrating, conditioning, and forming a protective film on the skin. This makes them particularly beneficial for individuals with dehydrated skin, as well as those looking to maintain their skin’s natural moisture levels. However, Glycosaminoglycans can also be used by people with other skin types, as the hydration and conditioning properties can help improve overall skin health and appearance.

As for vegans and vegetarians, the suitability of Glycosaminoglycans depends on the source from which they are derived. While some Glycosaminoglycans can be obtained from plant-based sources, others may be derived from animal tissues. Therefore, it’s essential to check the specific product formulation and ingredient sourcing to determine whether it aligns with your dietary and ethical preferences. If in doubt, look for products that explicitly state they are vegan or vegetarian-friendly or reach out to the manufacturer for more information.

Glycosaminoglycans Skin Benefits

Glycosaminoglycans provide several benefits for the skin, based on their official functions as film-forming, skin conditioning, and emollient agents. Here, we’ll explore these benefits in-depth:

  • Hydration and moisture retention: Glycosaminoglycans can bind with water molecules, which helps maintain the skin’s natural moisture levels. This hydration effect can lead to a plumper, more youthful appearance, as well as reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles caused by dehydration.
  • Skin conditioning: By improving the skin’s overall texture and suppleness, Glycosaminoglycans contribute to a healthier and more radiant appearance. This conditioning effect can also help to reduce roughness, flakiness, and uneven skin tone, resulting in a smoother, more even complexion.
  • Protective barrier: As a film-forming agent, Glycosaminoglycans create a thin, protective layer on the skin’s surface. This barrier helps shield the skin from external stressors, such as pollution, environmental irritants, and harmful UV rays. By protecting the skin, Glycosaminoglycans can contribute to overall skin health and resilience.
  • Emollient properties: The emollient function of Glycosaminoglycans helps to soften and smooth the skin, making it feel more comfortable and less prone to tightness or irritation. This property can be particularly beneficial for individuals with dry or sensitive skin, as it can alleviate some of the discomfort associated with these skin types.

It’s important to note that the beneficial effects of Glycosaminoglycans are not permanent, and the usage of products containing this ingredient must be sustained to maintain a positive impact on skin health and appearance.

Glycosaminoglycans Potential Side Effects

It’s essential to understand that side effects and reactions to cosmetic ingredients, such as Glycosaminoglycans, can vary from person to person. This variability is due to individual differences in skin types, sensitivities, and overall skin health. To better understand your unique skin needs, it’s helpful to find your skin type.

While generally considered safe and effective, there are some potential side effects and interactions associated with Glycosaminoglycans:

  • Skin irritation: Some individuals may experience redness, itching, or mild irritation when using products containing Glycosaminoglycans. This reaction is typically due to individual sensitivities or allergies to the ingredient.
  • Allergic reactions: In rare cases, some individuals may experience an allergic reaction to Glycosaminoglycans, leading to symptoms such as swelling, hives, or difficulty breathing. If you experience any of these symptoms, discontinue use immediately and seek medical attention.

If you experience any side effects while using a product containing Glycosaminoglycans, it’s essential to discontinue use and consult with a dermatologist or healthcare professional to determine the best course of action. In some cases, they may recommend alternative products or ingredients that may be better suited to your specific needs and sensitivities.

It’s worth noting that adverse reactions to Glycosaminoglycans are rare, and generally speaking, the ingredient is considered safe and effective for use in cosmetic products. However, individual reactions can vary, and it’s crucial to be mindful of any changes in your skin’s appearance or overall health when introducing new products or ingredients.

To minimize the risk of adverse reactions, it’s always a good idea to perform a patch test before using a new cosmetic product. A patch testing guide can help you understand the process and ensure that you’re taking the necessary precautions to protect your skin.

Comedogenic Rating

Glycosaminoglycans have a comedogenic rating of 1, which indicates that they are low on the scale of potentially pore-clogging ingredients. This low rating is due to the nature of Glycosaminoglycans as primarily hydrating and conditioning agents that work on the skin’s surface to maintain moisture and protect from external stressors. As a result, they are less likely to contribute to clogged pores or breakouts compared to more occlusive or heavy ingredients.


Success in skincare often involves a degree of experimentation and trial and error. Each individual’s skin is unique, and what works well for one person may not necessarily provide the same results for another. This principle applies to the use of ingredients like Glycosaminoglycans, which can offer various benefits depending on an individual’s specific needs and skin type.

While Glycosaminoglycans may not be as well-known or widely used as some other cosmetic ingredients, their potential effects on skin hydration, conditioning, and protection should not be overlooked. Their low comedogenic rating and versatile properties make them a valuable addition to many cosmetic formulations, with the potential to benefit a wide range of skin types.

Overall, Glycosaminoglycans can be a beneficial ingredient in skincare and cosmetic products, offering hydration, protection, and improved skin texture. As with any ingredient, it’s important to consider individual needs, sensitivities, and preferences when selecting products containing Glycosaminoglycans. By understanding the properties and potential effects of this ingredient, you’ll be better equipped to make informed decisions about your skincare routine and the products you use.

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