What is Xanthan Gum?
Xanthan gum is an ingredient often used in food to help to bind and improve texture. However, it is also a great ingredient used in skincare to improve binding, emulsify, and thicken the product. Xanthan gum is a polysaccharide, which means it is a carbohydrate. Interestingly it is a carbohydrate that is derived from the sticky coating of a particular type of bacteria, Xanthomonas campestris. While this may sound strange, many food and skincare ingredients are derived from bacteria, think kombucha, and some enzyme masks. This coating is dried and used in a liquid or powder form.
Xanthan gum is found in every category of cosmetic products, with 3,470 reported uses under the FDA. It can be found in everything from cleansers to masks, serums to peels. Xanthan gum is a popular ingredient for green beauty brands as it is naturally derived and is safe. The Cosmetic Ingredient Review has approved xanthan gum for skincare and personal use products. It is important to note that while xanthan gum does not cause any irritation or sensitivity, it is possible to have an allergy to xanthan gum. The potential for allergy comes from the fact that xanthan gum is derived using corn, wheat, dairy, and soy. It is usually the derivation source that causes the allergy and often occurs when it is ingested rather than when it is applied topically.
The strength of xanthan gum in products tends to be very low, usually between 0.0001-2%. This is due to both the lack of benefits it provides and the effectiveness at thickening. Xanthan gum is only required in minimal quantities to get the desired texture.
the good: Helps to bind and thicken the formulation to create a smooth, even-textured product.
the not so good:Can irritate people with identified allergies to either xanthan gum or the type of grain that it is derived from.
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 is Xanthan Gum used for?
In cosmetics and personal care products, xanthan gum functions as a binder, emulsifier, and a thickening agent. As the name implies, a binder is an ingredient that binds together other ingredients. As a binder, xanthan gum functions to prevent other ingredients used in a cosmetic formulation from separating or splitting. For example, binders are often used in pressed powders to keep them together in the container.
Xanthan gum also functions as an emulsifier. Emulsifiers help to mix oil and water-based ingredients to form an even stable product- making xanthan a great ingredient for products that contain both water and oil components. According to The European Food Emulsifiers Manufacturers Association (EFEMA), when water and oil are mixed and vigorously shaken, a dispersion of oil droplets in water – and vice versa are formed. When shaking stops, the oil and water start to separate. To address this problem, an emulsion stabilizer like xanthan gum can be added. This helps the droplets remain dispersed and produces a stable emulsion. As an emulsifying agent, xanthan gum can also help to form emulsions by reducing the surface tension of the substances to be mixed.
Another common use for xanthan gum in cosmetics is as a thickening agent. The thickness of a product is usually purely sensory, as it makes the product feel nice as it applies to the skin. When xanthan gum is added to water, it creates a gel that when mixed into products. Even in concentrations of less than one percent, xanthan gum has the ability to increase the thickness of liquids and improve texture greatly.
Is Xanthan Gum Safe?
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) includes xanthan gum on its list of food additives permitted for direct addition to food. In foods, it is allowed to be used as a stabilizer, emulsifier, thickener, suspending agent, bodying agent, or foam enhancer. The safety of xanthan gum as a food additive is well established.
The safety of xanthan gum in skincare has been reviewed by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel. The CIR Expert Panel investigates the safety of skincare and personal use ingredients. They considered a number of studies of microbial polysaccharides or carbohydrates that are derived from bacteria and concluded that this ingredient is safe for its indicated uses.
It is possible for some people to have allergies to xanthan gum since it can be derived from corn, wheat, dairy, and soy. However, symptoms are thought to occur only after xanthan gum is ingested, rather than applied to the skin.
Fiume, M et al. 2016. ‘Safety Assessment of Microbial Polysaccharide Gums as Used in Cosmetics’, International Journal of Toxicology, vol. 35, 5-49. Klaschka, U, 2016. ‘Natural personal care products – analysis of ingredient lists and legal situation’, Environmental Sciences Europe, vol. 28, is. 1. Berardo Gonçalves Maia Campos, P, Oliveira de Melo, M, & Bueno de Camargo Junior, F, 2014. Effects of Polysaccharide-Based Formulations on Human Skin, Polysaccharides, pp. 1-18.