This unique ingredient has a real affinity with the skin. Widely found in the cell membranes, it is safe, natural, and really versatile.
- Natural emollient
- Skin identical ingredient
- Increase of skin humidity
- Prevention against barrier disorders
- Skin and hair conditioning treatment
- Support of skin regeneration and renewal
- Natural humectant, helping prevent trans epidermal water loss
What Exactly is Soya Lecithin?
The word Lecithin is of Greek origin and is pronounced Lekithos, meaning ‘egg yolk’.
But don’t worry, you’ll be happy to know you won’t end up with egg on your face if you see this listed on the back of your skin care products.
Traditionally in skin care, the lecithin used is extracted from soy beans, which creates a thick, waxy substance that has a number of interesting properties:
- B vitamins in very small amounts
- Natural phospholipids 60%
- Soy bean oil 30%
The Technical Info
Phosphatidylcholine (as it is technically known) is extracted from soy lecithin. It contains omega-6 unsaturated fatty acid, linoleic acid, and choline, plus smaller quantities of omega-3 fatty acids, and alpha-linolenic acid – all of which are essential for human life. Our bodies are not able to synthesise these substances themselves.
Soy Lecithin is the most important substance for the formation of cell membranes as it provides essential fatty acids. By enabling the skin to form and build up the bi-layers of lipids that are part of the barrier, it plays a very important role in skin care.
Linoleic Acid and Unsaturated Phosphatidylcholine create the formation of ceramides in the horny layer of the skin, whilst palmitic and stearic acids – referred to as saturated phosphatidylcholine – has properties very similar to ceramides and is able to substitute for them in the skin.
In cell metabolism, phosphatidylcholine actually transfers to ceramides, enabling the formation of sphingomyelins which are essential for living cells. Both of these substance groups are of major importance for the homeostasis of the skin.
Typical Fatty Acid Composition of Soy Phosphatidylcholine
12.9% Palmitic acid
4.4% Stearic acid
10.5% Oleic acid
66.5% Linoleic acid
5.7% Alpha-linolenic acid
- Linoleic acid is the substance used for the synthesis of arachidonic acid in the human body, which fulfills many physiological functions.
- Amongst other beneficial effects, linoleic acid has proven to be highly efficient in the treatment of blemished skin and of mild to moderate acne.
- A deficiency of linoleic acid leads to dry and scaly skin, followed by dermatoses. Essential fatty acids have proved to be effective in the prevention and therapy of neurodermatitis and skin diseases when the skin barrier is chronically damaged.
- Phosphatidylcholine from vegetable lecithin is used for the treatment of acne vulgaris. Clinical studies show a 60% decrease in comedones and a 70% decrease in efflorescences after 28 days with a significant increase in the skin’s linoleic acid content.
Benefits of Lecithin
Active Additive: It helps to soften and moisturise the skin.
Penetration Enhancer: It alters the skin structure, allowing other substances to penetrate deeper.
Hydrophilic ingredient: It attracts water to the skin, working to prevent moisture loss from deep within the skin’s tissues.
Thickening: Soya Lecithin can add thickness to a formula.
Moisturising: It is an occlusive and helps put moisture back into the skin, which is due to its high levels of oleic and linoleic acid.
Emulsifying: Soya lecithin helps emulsify oil and water products, making formulae more stable.
Why is Lecithin Used in Personal Care Products?
Barrier repairing: Phospholipids – as they are referred to in the industry – have interesting properties that resemble the skin barrier, so they are particularly suited for skin protection purposes, helping to repair the barrier function.
Hydrating: They help to stabilise trans-epidermal water loss (TEWL) on a natural level and are the perfect choice for dehydrated skin.
Moisturising: The active agents last a lot longer because they are slowly and evenly released; this is due to the phospholipids binding to keratin, the protein in our skin. For this reason, I have encapsulated it in both Nectar Treatment Balm and Fortify Barrier Repair Cream.
The Naked Truth
Many skin care formulae are oil in water, and because of this, they require emulsifiers to help bind the small amounts of oil into large amounts of water.
Lecithin is often used in skin care as an emulsifier, as it works by preventing water-hating (hydrophobic) and water-loving (hydrophilic) substances – such as oil and water -from separating. This is why it works really well in a barrier cream.
When you try to get a little bit of water in a lot of oil, you need to utilise an emulsifier that favours the oil phase – one that has a Hydrophilic-Lipophilic Balance (HLB) at the low end of the scale. This can be anywhere between 3 to 5, which is where Soya Lecithin comes into its own.
This is why I use Soya Lecithin in my balm formulae that contain Manuka honey, which is a sugar and water mix and tends to sit on top of oils. When you don’t add a little bit of chemical diplomacy, the formula separates.
So, as you can see, not only is it the perfect skin-restoring ingredient, but it also plays a useful role in formulae too. Seriously, who doesn’t need a little Soya Lecithin in their life?