Lecithin at a Glance

  • Replenishing ingredient that improves skin’s moisture retention
  • Well known for its versatility as an emulsifying agent in cosmetic formulas
  • Can also be used to encapsulate key ingredients to achieve improved dermal delivery
  • Typically derived from soy, sunflower and rapeseed in cosmetic formulas
  • Long track record of safety in skin care products

Lecithin Description

Lecithin in skin care formulations serves a variety of roles including functioning as an emollient (think softening), water-binding agent (to boost hydration), and emulsifying agent (to help water + oil ingredients mesh better in a formula). Lecithin is naturally present in many living organisms, but in cosmetic formulas it’s almost always derived from plants such as soy, sunflower or rapeseed.

Lecithin’s beneficial components include phospholipids (which convey skin-restoring benefits), fatty acids and triglycerides that can help replenish skin. Lecithin can also be used to encapsulate a wide range of active ingredients allowing for a better dermal delivery system.

Lecithin’s appearance as a raw material varies based on the origin and extraction process, but in cosmetic use it typically presents as a viscous liquid or as powder. In a safety assessment conducted in 2020, the highest concentration of lecithin that was reported was 50% in a leave-on foot product, which was deemed safe. Facial skin care products typically safely contain much lower concentrations than that, usually between 0.5–2%.

Lecithin References

Cosmetics, November 2020, pages 1-19
International Journal of Toxicology, September 2020, pages 5S-25S
Molecules, March 2020, pages 1-9
Journal of the American Oil Chemists' Society, March 2014, pages 1,093-1,101
Scientia Pharmaceutica, July 2013, pages 1,151-1,166

See phospholipid

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About the Experts

Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books about skincare and makeup. She is known worldwide as The Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula’s Choice Skincare. Paula’s expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international radio, print, and television including:

The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to busting beauty myths and providing expert advice that solves your skincare frustrations so you can have the best skin of your life!