Cholesterol at a Glance
- Plays a replenishing role topically to support moisture balance
- Helps reinforce and strengthen skin’s barrier
- Can also function as a stabilizer, emollient, surfactant, and water-binding agent
- May also show up as lanolin or wool extract on an ingredient label (both are sources of cholesterol)
- Scientists are continually exploring ways to create synthetic versions of cholesterol to mimic its skin benefits
Cholesterol is a natural component of skin’s barrier, accounting for 15% of its fatty acid content. Research shows that a deficiency of cholesterol in skin can lead to dryness. When cholesterol is applied to skin topically, it plays a replenishing role to support the moisture balance and lipid composition for healthier looking/feeling skin. Reinforcing skin’s outermost layers in this way also helps it resist damage from external stressors (think harmful bacteria, pollutants, etc.).
In skin care formulas, cholesterol can also function as a stabilizer, emollient, surfactant, and water-binding agent.
Cholesterol-enriched skin care products may list “cholesterol” on the ingredient label. Alternatively, if you see wool extract or lanolin on the ingredient list, know that these are sources of cholesterol as well. In addition, scientists are continually exploring ways to create synthetic ingredients that mimic cholesterol’s skin benefits.
The safety of cholesterol in skin care products has been assessed by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel, who deemed it was safe in normal cosmetic use (studied in concentrations up to 5%, although they acknowledged most formulations they looked at contained cholesterol in the 0.1-1% range.) As with any natural fatty acid or oil, cholesterol is prone to going rancid with prolonged exposure to light and air so protective packaging is key.
Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology, August 2015, pages 1-6
Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, July 2007, pages 239-242
Journal of Structural Biology, June 2007, pages 386-400
International Journal of Toxicology, 2006, pages 1-89
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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!