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Buzzy Beauty Ingredient of the Moment: Ectoin

Welcome to our series "Buzzy Beauty Ingredient of the Moment," the premise of which is pretty self-explanatory: In each installment, we'll explore an ingredient that's currently trending in the industry, springing up in a variety of different products lining the beauty aisle. We'll consult experts to find out about the science behind it — and why it's having a major moment right now.

Remember the overachiever in high school who excelled in every subject and crushed it in sports? And happened to be nice, too? In beauty circles, ectoin has earned a reputation as that kid.

The top-performing ingredient — which rivals hyaluronic acid, niacinamide and ceramides — has been popping up in skin-care formulas lately, becoming the valedictorian of beauty. Ectoin was first discovered in 1985 by Erwin Galinski, a microbiologist who wanted to find out why certain organisms thrive in extremely harsh conditions, like the Egyptian salt lakes. It belongs to a class of molecules known as "extremolytes," due to their ability to help cells survive in environments that are so severe, they're virtually uninhabitable (the Arctic, scorching deserts, deepest depths of the sea... you get the idea).

Ectoin works by creating stable, protective shells of hydration around living cells, acting as a bodyguard against intense stressors like temperature, pollutants and allergens. By shielding skin cells, the amino-acid derivative helps prevent negative responses like inflammation, damage and moisture loss. According to Dr. Dennis Gross, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City and founder of Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare, it's "essentially nature's self-defense for global skin protection."

So, why is this multi-functional ingredient starting to appear in beauty formulas decades after its discovery?

"More research is coming out showing the efficacy of the ingredient. The consumer has become more aware of the skin's moisture barrier and is looking for products that strengthen it," says Dr. Gross, adding that many of his patients have disrupted moisture barriers from using products that too harsh for their skin. Among its laundry list of benefits, ectoin "helps heal and soothe skin, strengthen the skin barrier, reduce water loss and reduce inflammation," board-certified dermatologist Dr. Corey L. Hartman, founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology in Birmingham, AL, explains.

"Ectoin has become one of the most sought-after ingredients in modern skin-care, because it has a lot of benefits without creating any problems for the skin," adds Dr. Yannis Alexandrides, board-certified plastic surgeon and founder of 111Skin.

Like hyaluronic acid, ectoin binds to water and draws hydration to the skin. It offers niacinamide-like benefits by helping to soothe skin, and behaves like a ceramide by fortifying the skin barrier. It also promotes increased skin elasticity and brightness like vitamin C. (While there's even early evidence that ectoin can shield skin from ultraviolet rays, it hasn't been approved as a sun-protection drug by the FDA and should not replace SPF.)

If ectoin's benefits aren't impressive enough, let's consider that it also boosts the benefits of other powerhouse ingredients: "It can increase the effectiveness of hyaluronic acid, ceramides and peptides for an overall moisture and health boost to the skin," says Dr. Hartman. Conveniently, the ingredient's anti-inflammatory properties help mitigate the side effects of strong treatments. (In YSE Beauty's Your Favorite Ex Exfoliating Pads, it calms skin and reduces moisture loss, according to Allen Sha, the brand's consulting chemist; it's also a key nourishing ingredient in 111Skin's Y Theorem Concentrate, an intense seven-day reparative treatment.)

Hair-care brands are beginning to jump on the ectoin bandwagon, too. The lightweight ingredient hydrates the scalp without adding an oil slick to hair. Aveda's Scalp Solutions collection, for example, uses it to support the skin barrier.

"Formulating products for the scalp presents a unique challenge due to the presence of hair. Many ingredients commonly used in skin-care can leave the scalp and hair feeling greasy or weighed down. Therefore, we sought out potent ingredients capable of strengthening and repairing the scalp barrier without causing these undesirable effects," explains Alison Pawlus, PhD, Aveda Hair Care Innovation, R&D. "Our scalp's natural moisture barrier can be depleted through exposure to hot water during showers and certain environmental conditions. Maintaining scalp health is crucial for promoting healthy hair growth."

Dr. Hartman advises, "products with ectoin are best for people looking for a moisture boost to the skin." Those with oily or acne-prone skin will appreciate that ectoin deeply hydrates without clogging pores.

Curious about this skin-care all-star? Below, our roundup of ectoin-based products to try for skin and scalp.

Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare DermInfusions Fill + Repair Serum with Hyaluronic Acid, $75, available here

111Skin The Y Theorem Concentrate, $175, available here

YSE Beauty Your Favorite Ex Exfoliating Pads, $72, available here

Aveda Scalp Solutions Overnight Scalp Renewal Serum, $56, available here

Dr. Jart+ Ceramidin Ectoin-Infused Face Cream for Very Dry Skin, $65, available here

Tower 28 Beauty SOS Daily Skin Barrier Redness Recovery Moisturizer, $24, available here

Is Clinical Retinol+ Emulsion 0.3, available here

Le Mieux Oh My Glow Serum, $110, available here 

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