Microcrystalline Cellulose: What Is It, Cosmetic Uses, Benefits & Side Effects

Priya Singh
Fact-Checker: Priya Singh
This article was last updated on: February 27, 2024
Table of Contents

Understanding the world of cosmetics can often feel like trying to decipher a complex scientific equation, especially when you’re faced with a myriad of scientific names on product labels.

One such ingredient that you might have come across in your favorite cosmetic products is Microcrystalline Cellulose.

In this article, we’re going to delve deep into the world of Microcrystalline Cellulose, exploring what it is, why it’s used in cosmetic products, its benefits, and potential side effects.

What is Microcrystalline Cellulose?

Microcrystalline Cellulose, also known as MCC, is a common ingredient found in many cosmetic products. It’s the isolated, colloidal crystalline portion of cellulose fibers. This ingredient is derived from refined wood pulp and is used for its various properties such as being abrasive, absorbent, anticaking, bulking, emulsion stabilising, light stabilizer, opacifying, and viscosity controlling.

Microcrystalline Cellulose is made by treating alpha-cellulose, obtained as a pulp from fibrous plant material, with mineral acids. The resulting product is washed and then dehydrated to produce the white powder we know as Microcrystalline Cellulose. Its general purpose within products is to help improve the texture and feel, control the viscosity, and stabilize the product. It works by absorbing oils and helping to thicken and stabilize emulsions.

While you can find Microcrystalline Cellulose sold as a standalone product, it’s more commonly found as part of a wider formulation of ingredients within a product’s formulation. It’s a versatile ingredient that can be used in a wide range of cosmetic products.

Who Can Use Microcrystalline Cellulose?

Microcrystalline Cellulose is suitable for all skin types. It’s non-irritating and hypoallergenic, making it a great choice for those with sensitive skin. It’s also non-comedogenic, meaning it won’t clog pores, so it’s suitable for those with oily or acne-prone skin as well.

As for its suitability for vegans and vegetarians, Microcrystalline Cellulose is a plant-derived ingredient, specifically from wood pulp. This means it’s completely free from animal-derived ingredients and is therefore suitable for both vegans and vegetarians.

Women who are pregnant and/or breastfeeding can also use this ingredient. It’s considered safe and non-toxic, and there are no known risks associated with its use during pregnancy or breastfeeding. However, as with any ingredient, it’s always a good idea to consult with a healthcare provider if you have any concerns.

Microcrystalline Cellulose’s Cosmetic Benefits/Uses

The benefits and uses listed in this section pertain strictly to the cosmetic applications of Microcrystalline Cellulose. This ingredient may have other applications in various industries, but those are beyond the scope of this article. The benefits are based on the official functions of Microcrystalline Cellulose as an Abrasive, Absorbent, Anticaking, Bulking, Emulsion Stabilising, Light Stabilizer, Opacifying, and Viscosity Controlling agent.

  • Abrasive: Microcrystalline Cellulose acts as a gentle exfoliant in cosmetic products. It helps to remove dead skin cells and impurities from the skin surface, promoting a smoother and brighter complexion. This is achieved by the small, rough particles of Microcrystalline Cellulose, which provide a mild abrasive action when rubbed against the skin.
  • Absorbent: This ingredient has the ability to absorb excess oil and moisture from the skin. This makes it particularly beneficial in products designed for oily or combination skin types, as it can help to control shine and prevent the clogging of pores.
  • Anticaking: Microcrystalline Cellulose prevents the ingredients in cosmetic products from clumping together. This ensures a smooth and even application, enhancing the overall performance and aesthetic appeal of the product.
  • Bulking: It adds volume and texture to cosmetic products without adding significant weight. This can improve the feel and usability of the product, making it more satisfying to use.
  • Emulsion Stabilising: Microcrystalline Cellulose helps to stabilize emulsions, which are mixtures of oil and water. This ensures that the product maintains a consistent texture and does not separate over time, improving its shelf life and effectiveness.
  • Light Stabilizer: This ingredient helps to protect cosmetic products from degradation caused by exposure to light. This can extend the shelf life of the product and ensure that it maintains its intended effects and coloration.
  • Opacifying: Microcrystalline Cellulose can make cosmetic products more opaque, enhancing their visual appeal. This can also help to hide the appearance of other less aesthetically pleasing ingredients.
  • Viscosity Controlling: It helps to control the thickness and flow of cosmetic products. This can improve the product’s spreadability and absorption, making it easier to apply and more effective in delivering its intended benefits.

Potential Side Effects/Adverse Reactions

Side effects and reactions to the topical application of Microcrystalline Cellulose can vary significantly from person to person. It’s important to remember that everyone’s skin is unique, and what works well for one person may not work as well for another.

While generally considered safe for topical use, some potential side effects of Microcrystalline Cellulose include:

  • Redness
  • Itching
  • Burning sensation
  • Skin irritation

If you experience any of these side effects while using a product containing Microcrystalline Cellulose, it’s recommended to discontinue use immediately and consult with a healthcare professional or dermatologist. They can provide guidance on how to best manage the reaction and suggest alternative products if necessary.

Adverse reactions to Microcrystalline Cellulose are relatively rare, but they can occur. It’s always important to monitor your skin’s response to any new product or ingredient.

One of the best ways to minimize the risk of adverse reactions is to perform a patch test before fully incorporating a new product into your skincare routine. This simple step can help you identify potential sensitivities or reactions before they become a larger issue.

Comedogenic Rating

Comedogenicity refers to the potential of a substance to cause comedones, which are skin blemishes often associated with acne. This is a crucial factor to consider when evaluating cosmetic ingredients, as those with high comedogenic ratings can clog pores and exacerbate skin issues.

Microcrystalline Cellulose has a comedogenic rating of 0. This means it is non-comedogenic and does not clog pores or contribute to acne breakouts. This rating is based on the molecular structure of Microcrystalline Cellulose, which is too large to penetrate the pores and cause blockages.

Given its non-comedogenic nature, Microcrystalline Cellulose is suitable for individuals prone to acne or breakouts. It can be used in a variety of skincare and cosmetic products without the risk of causing or worsening acne.


Microcrystalline Cellulose serves multiple functions in cosmetic products. It acts as an abrasive, absorbent, anticaking agent, bulking agent, emulsion stabilizer, light stabilizer, opacifying agent, and viscosity controller. These diverse roles make it a versatile ingredient in the cosmetics industry.

Despite its versatility, Microcrystalline Cellulose is not as popular as some other ingredients. It is similar to ingredients like silica and talc, which also serve multiple functions in cosmetics. However, its non-comedogenic nature and versatility may lead to increased popularity in the future.

In terms of safety, Microcrystalline Cellulose is generally considered safe for use in cosmetics. Its large molecular structure prevents it from penetrating the skin, reducing the risk of irritation or other adverse reactions. However, as with any ingredient, individual reactions can vary, and it is always recommended to patch test new products.

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