Xanthan gum is a natural polysaccharide that is added to cosmetics and personal care products as a binder, emulsion stabilizer, surfactant emulsifying agent, and a viscosity increasing agent.
Xanthan gum was discovered by Allene Rosalind Jeanes and her research team at the United States Department of Agriculture in the early 1960s. Xanthan gum was brought into commercial production under the trade name Kelzan. In 1968, it was approved for use in foods. Today, xanthan gum is accepted as a safe food additive in the United States, Canada, European countries, and many other countries.
Xanthan gum is polysaccharide created through fermentation of sugar (glucose, sucrose, or lactose) by Xanthomonas campestris bacteria. Then, it is precipitated (made into a solid) by isopropyl alcohol. After being dried, it is ground into fine powder where it can be added to liquid to form gum or gel.
Xanthan gum can be found in everything from cleansers to masks, serums to peels. It is a popular ingredient for brands that produce organic skin care due to its natural origins.
In cosmetics and personal care products, xanthan gum functions as a binder, emulsion stabilizer, surfactant-emulsifying agent, and a viscosity increasing agent.
As the name implies, a binder is an ingredient that binds together other ingredients. Therefore, as a binder, xanthan gum functions to prevent other ingredients used in a cosmetic formulation from coming apart. For example, binders are often used in pressed powders to keep them together in the container.
Since xanthan gum functions as an emulsion stabilizer, it is often used in products that contain both water and oil components. According to EFEMA, when water and oil are mixed together and vigorously shaken, a dispersion of oil droplets in water – and vice versa – is formed. When shaking stops, however, the two phases start to separate. To address this problem, an emulsion stabilizer like xanthan gum can be added to the system. This helps the droplets remain dispersed and produces a stable emulsion. It is most commonly used in oil-in-water emulsions to help stabilize the oil droplets against coalescence. As a surfactant-emulsifying agent, xanthan gum also helps to form emulsions by reducing the surface tension of the substances to be emulsified.
Another common use for xanthan gum in cosmetics is as a viscosity increasing agent. The term viscosity corresponds to the concept of “thickness”, for example, honey has a higher viscosity than water. When xanthan gum is added to water, it creates a gel with a high viscosity. Therefore, as a viscosity-increasing agent, xanthan gum works to thicken formulations in order to make a product less runny and easier to spread. Even in concentrations of less than one percent, xanthan gum has the ability to greatly increase the viscosity of liquids it is added to for optimal texture.
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 permitted to be used as a stabilizer, emulsifier, thickener, suspending agent, bodying agent or foam enhancer. According to Dr. Josh Axe, it’s generally agreed upon in the scientific community that it is safe to consume up to 15 grams of xanthan gum per day.
The safety of xanthan gum has been reviewed by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel. The CIR Expert Panel reviewed the scientific data and concluded that this ingredient is safe as used in cosmetics and personal care products.
According to EWG, xanthan gum is rated as a 1 on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the lowest risk to health and 10 being the highest.
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.
References: Wikipedia, “Xanthan Gum”, Dr. Josh Axe, “What is Xanthan Gum? Is It Healthy?”, Truth In Aging, “Xanthan Gum”, Cosmetics Info, “Xanthan Gum”, Ingredients to Die For, “Xanthan Gum”, Vogue, “Skincare Alphabet: X Is For Xanthan Gum”, EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Database, “Xanthan Gum”.