Why Is Polyacrylamide In So Many Products? And Should It Be?



What Is Polyacrylamide?

Polyacrylamide is a polymer that is used in a wide variety of cosmetics and personal care products due to its ability to form a thin coating on the skin, hair, or nails.

Polyacrylamide is a polymer (long chain) of acrylamide monomers. The only commercially important polyacrylamide is poly(2-propenamide) which is simply called polyacrylamide or PAM. It is a non-ionic, water-soluble, and biocompatible polymer that can be tailored to meet a broad range of applications. Polyacrylamide can be synthesized as a simple linear-chain structure or cross-linked. In the cross-linked form, the possibility of the monomer (acrylamide) being present is reduced.

One of the largest uses for polyacrylamide is to flocculate solids in a liquid. Polyacrylamide is also used in water, sewage and waste treatment, oil recovery, ore processing paper making, and to make permanent-press fabrics, to synthesize dyes, contact lenses, and in the construction of dams, tunnels and sewers. Polyacrylamide is also present in cigarette smoke.

Polymers, such as polyacrylamide, are often used to change the rheology of water-based formulations, which means they help to increase viscosity, thicken, or gel products. In cosmetics and personal care products, polyacrylamide is used in the formulation of many product types including skin cleansers, moisturizers, lotions and creams, sunscreens, makeup, hair care products, and nail care products.


the good:Helps protect the skin and maintain the skin’s natural barrier

the not so good:Harvesting processes

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:Congestive skin be mindful

What Are The Functions of Polyacrylamide?

Polyacrylamide is used in cosmetics and skincare products in two different forms. One is its cross-linked form, which forms a soft gel that is highly water-absorbent. The other is the straight-chain form that functions as a thickener and suspending agent.

Polyacrylamide forms a protective coating on the skin. When polyacrylamide dries it forms a thin coating on the skin, hair, or nails. This helps to improve the appearance of makeup on the skin. 

In sunscreen products, polyacrylamide aids in keeping the active ingredients of the sunscreen on the skin after immersion in water.  This helps to improve sunscreen’s water-resistant abilities. 

Small polyacrylamide beads may be used as an abrasive in skin cleansing and exfoliating products. 

In hair care products, polyacrylamide helps hair hold its style by inhibiting the hair’s ability to absorb moisture. 

Is Polyacrylamide Safe?

Polyacrylamide is a controversial ingredient because acrylamide is a known neurotoxin. While polyacrylamide itself is relatively non-toxic, it is known that commercially available polyacrylamide contains minute residual amounts of acrylamide remaining from its production, usually less than 0.05%.

Polyacrylamide polymers do not penetrate the skin due to their large size, according to a safety report by the International Journal of Toxicology. However, this safety report does state that acrylamide monomer residues do penetrate the skin.

The Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel, a group that assesses the safety of skincare and cosmetic ingredients, had previously published a review of the safety of polyacrylamide, concluding that it was safe as a cosmetic ingredient as currently used. However, in 2003 the CIR Expert Panel reassessed the safety of this ingredient because of concern regarding potential effects of residual acrylamide monomer. The CIR Expert Panel reaffirmed the safety of polyacrylamide as a cosmetic ingredient.  The CIR Expert Panel acknowledged that acrylamide is a demonstrated neurotoxin in humans and a carcinogen in animal tests, but that neurotoxic levels could not be attained by use of cosmetics.

Kalantar-Hormozi, A, Mozafari, N, & Rasti, M, 2008. ‘Adverse Effects After Use of Polyacrylamide Gel as a Facial Soft Tissue Filler’, Aesthetic Surgery Journal, vol. 28, is. 2, pp. 139-142. Cosmetic Ingredient Review, 2005. ‘Amended Final Report on the Safety Assessment of Polyacrylamide and Acrylamide Residues in Cosmetics’, International Journal of Toxicology.



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