What is Betaine?

Betaine is a naturally derived ingredient that is added to skin and hair care products to increase hydration, protect the skin’s natural barrier, improve hair strength and silkiness, and enhance the texture of formulations.

Betaine is a natural substance that was initially derived from sugar beets. Betaine can also be found at high concentrations in several other sources, including wheat bran, wheat germ, spinach, beets, microorganisms, and aquatic invertebrates. The chemical structure of betaine resembles the amino acid glycine with three extra methyl groups. Betaine is also called trimethylglycine after its structure.

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Betaine is involved in several essential biological functions within the body. Betaine is mainly obtained for these processes through your diet. However, betaine can also be synthesized from the combination of choline and the amino acid glycine in the body. The biological processes that betaine is involved in include healthy liver function, detoxification, and normal cellular functioning throughout the body. Betaine is essential to the processing of fats within the body and is an osmoprotectant in the liver, kidneys, and brain, protecting cells, proteins, and enzymes from osmotic stress. 

The benefits of betaine in skincare include hydration, anti-inflammatory, anti-aging, and soothing to the skin. Given that betaine naturally occurs in the body, it is a non-irritating, safe ingredient to help improve the condition of the skin. 


the good:Betaine helps to improve water retention in the skin, reduces the visible signs of aging, and may calm irritated skin irritation.

the not so good:Betaine doesn’t have any downside. Betaine is non-irritating and is considered to be a low hazard.

Who is it for?All skin types except those that have an identified allergy to it.

Synergetic ingredients:Works well with most ingredients.

Keep an eye on:Nothing to keep an eye on here.

What Are the Benefits of Betaine for the Skin?

Despite being a little-known ingredient in skincare, betaine has a variety of benefits that it can provide to the skin. These include hydration, anti-aging, and soothing to the skin. Betaine is naturally non-irritating and safe for most skin types. 

Betaine helps to improve the hydration levels in the skin, giving your skin that dewy, plumped look. Betaine does this by mediating the osmosis process. Osmosis is the process of water balancing within the body. If one area is dehydrated, then osmosis allows the flow of water into that area to create a balance.  As an osmolyte, the structure of betaine enables it to attract moisture and help to maintain cell water balance. This function of betaine is particularly crucial for skin cells that are dehydrated or exposed to UV radiation. Furthermore, the ability of betaine to increase skin hydration has been shown to have an anti-wrinkle effect.

Skin hydration is a vital part of general skin health as when the skin is dehydrated; it is more susceptible to damage, infection, and dullness. 

Research has found that betaine can also improve tight junction integrity. Tight junctions are protein complexes that prevent leakage of solutes and water between the cells. Tight junctions have been suggested to contribute to the prevention of penetration of harmful substances, such as allergens, pollutants, etc. into the skin. Additionally, tight junctions aid in preventing water loss through the skin. Therefore, by improving tight junction integrity, betaine increases the hydration status of the skin and also protects the skin from harmful environmental substances.

The water retention capability of betaine makes it an ideal ingredient for hair care products. One study found that the increase of water retention into the hair treated with betaine was 40% by average, compared to hair treated with glycerol at only 6%. Furthermore, when betaine is added to hair conditioners, it has been shown to improve the hair feel and the ease of wet/dry combing. Overall, the addition of betaine to hair care products gives the hair more strength and hydration, as well as makes the hair shiny and more elastic.

A few studies have looked into the potential benefits of betaine as an anti-aging ingredient. This suggested benefit is thought to come from its ability to protect the skin from free radical damage. Imbalance in free radicals’ levels occur during a process called oxidative stress and can cause damage to the cells. Oxidative stress occurs in response to environmental stress, such as UV damage, and is considered to be part of the aging process. 

Betaine is also used as it is a non-irritating ingredient and may help soothe inflamed sensitized skin. Betaine is less irritating than water and helps to maintain the skin’s natural barrier, protecting the skin from water loss, allergens, and bacteria. A healthy skin barrier is important for preventing irritation and sensitivity. 

Betaine also functions as a texture enhancer in cosmetics and skincare products. Betaine helps to improve the texture of products by providing that silky feeling to skincare formulations without causing tackiness. Betaine also can increase the thickening capabilities of thickening agents by 20%. Additionally, when betaine is added to formulations containing surfactants, it has been shown to increase foam volume and reduce the irritation potential of surfactants or cleansing agents. This property of betaine is ideal for shampoos, especially when used to formulate a delicate, easy-rinse baby shampoo that contains a low concentration of surfactants.

Cocoamidopropyl betaine vs. betaine

The main difference between cocoamidopropyl betaine and betaine is the way they are produced. You may see cocoamidopropyl betaine on your product’s ingredient list; however, it is different from betaine in terms of function. Cocoamidopropyl betaine is the synthetic form of betaine and doesn’t have the same profile of benefits are betaine does. Cocoamidopropyl betaine’s main function is as a surfactant or cleansing ingredient. Natural betaine, which is obtained from the process of making sugar out of sugar beets by chromatography of the molasses, functions as an osmolyte. It is betaine’s characteristic osmolyte properties that give it the ability to hydrate, soothe, and reduce visible fine lines and wrinkles. 

Is Betaine Safe?

The Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel, a group that is responsible for evaluating the safety of cosmetic and skincare ingredients, has not assessed the safety of natural betaine. The Cosmetic Ingredient Review has only evaluated synthetic betaines such as cocamidopropyl betaine (CAPB) and related amidopropyl betaines. However, naturally derived betaine is considered to be a stable and nontoxic substance.

Burnett, C, et al., 2012. ‘Final Report of the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel on the Safety Assessment of Cocoamidopropyl betaine’, International Journal of Toxicology. Rigano, L & Dell’Acqua, G, 2000. ‘Benefits of trimethylglycine (betaine) in personal-care formulations’, Cosmetics & Toiletries, vol. 155. Im, A, Lee, H, Youn, U, Hyun, J & Chae, S, 2015. ‘Orally administered betaine reduces photodamage caused by UVB irradiation through the regulation of matrix metalloproteinase-9 activity in hairless mice’, Molecular Medicine Reports, vol. 13, is. 1.



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