The Benefits of Sodium PCA in Skincare

Updated 01/09/20

Streamlined skincare routine is about substitution, where one product will do the job of several.

And there is no better electrolyte cocktail for your skin than sodium PCA.

Want a smoother texture? Why not try sodium PCA, perhaps it’s more moisturisation you are after? Then try Sodium PCA.

Want a cooling, quenching overnight treat, to plump and restore your skin? Yep, you guessed it, why not try sodium PCA.

Basically, if you want to rehydrate hungover, overly-parched, dry, or mature skin, then its sodium PCA all the way baby.

What is sodium PCA?

Technically, It is the sodium salt of pyrrolidone carboxylic acid; a naturally-occurring amino acid known as Proline that is found in proteins. It falls under alternative names such as; monosodium salt, sodium pyroglutamate or monosodium salt DL-proline

Whilst some of the sodium PCA used in skincare is synthetically created, it is, for the most part, a natural ingredient that is derived from plants, fruits, and coconut oil. The fermentation process it goes through involves the use of sugars and starches to create a plant-derived form of the ingredient. Here at the Naked Chemist, we use sodium PCA that has been derived from the fermentation of soybeans in our Quench ultra-hydrating water gel.

It has a number of roles in the personal care industry, depending on where it is extracted from:

  • The PCA that is extracted from vegetable and grasses is often used for its emollient properties in moisturisers
  • PCA that is extracted from coconut oil is used for its emulsification properties
  • Algae and Seaweed contain moderate levels of PCA, which is often used for its water-binding properties

Sodium PCA versus Hyaluronic acid

Hyaluronic acid is often used as is a key ingredient in many formulations due to its ability to pull moisture into the skin and lock it there.

Sodium PCA works in a similar way to improve the appearance of dehydrated, mature skin. The sodium salt is what makes the molecule, both water-soluble and an effective humectant, drawing water from the atmosphere to the skin and hair to offer hydration.

Sodium PCA and hyaluronic acid are both humectants and the main difference between them is how well they can produce this effect. Sodium PCA can hold up to roughly 250 times its weight in water, while hyaluronic acid can hold up to 1000 times its weight in water. For this reason, you will often find these two ingredients used in a combination with each other, to improve the moisture-retaining properties of the formula.

Sodium PCA is thought to be 1.5 times more effective than glycerin and twice as effective as propylene glycol at drawing in water to the skin.

Benefits of Sodium PCA

Those reasons alone are enough to explain why you should include this valuable ingredient into your skincare routine—but frankly, sodium PCA’s resumé is so long we often don’t make it past the first page.

  • humectant
  • film former
  • moisture booster
  • anti-inflammatory
  • moisture-binding properties
  • anti-ageing properties
  • increases skin permeability of certain ingredients

Humectant: Sodium PCA is very hygroscopic, meaning it attracts moisture from the air. imparting a moist feeling to hair and skin. A naturally occurring component of human skin, sodium PCA forms about 12% of the skin’s natural moisturising factor or NMF, which consists of several components such as amino acids, lactic acid, sugar, and proteins. Together with the naturally occurring lipids in the skin, the NMF components work to keep the skin’s surface healthy, supple, and hydrated, maintaining the health of the epidermis – the skin’s outer layer.

We know this skin-friendly humectant can effectively pass through the outer, protective layer of skin, meaning you get good results with low concentrations at 1 to 2.5 percent in skincare.

Moisturising: It acts as a moisture magnet Studies have demonstrated that cosmetic preparations containing at least 2% sodium PCA significantly improves the condition of dry skin.

Anti-ageing: Our skin naturally contains PCA, but as we age these levels drop quite considerably. Because it is extremely water-absorbent and can hold several times its weight in water; it helps to reduce the loss of moisture through evaporation, keeping skin youthful, hydrated, and plump so it looks more youthful.

Barrier protecting: PCA is an important component of the skin’s intracellular matrix; preventing cells from losing water and drying out, whilst also protecting the skin’s all-important barrier function. It helps to rebuild the intercellular glue that holds our skin cells together, which can be likened to the mortar that holds bricks together. PCA has created through the breakdown of the protein filaggrin within corneocytes, which are the dead skin cells that make up the outermost layer of skin the epidermis. This serves as the protective barrier, preventing moisture loss and reducing the effects of bacteria overgrowth and allergens. A technical topic to cover which we discuss in greater detail in this article.

Relieves eczema: Eczema is a dermatologic condition characterised by inflammation within the skin tissues, resulting in erythema, irritation, and scaling. A pilot study examining the role of anti‐inflammatories in alleviating the signs and symptoms of mild‐to‐moderate eczema, found, that when sodium PCA. was used in a combination with other barrier repairing ingredients, it significantly helped to improve irritation, inflammation, rough texture, erythema, desquamation, dryness, itching, and overall skin appearance after 2 weeks of continuous application. What’s more, overall there was a 79% reduction in itching and skin hydration increased by 44%.

Reduces inflammation: PCA is a great ingredient for helping to protect the delicate microflora that makes up the acid mantle, reducing inflammation and preventing surface irritation from becoming too serious.

Effective hair treatment: Sodium PCA is often used in hair care products. It is known in the industry to enhance the appearance and feel of hair, by increasing suppleness, sheen, and the body of the hair. It is also thought to improve the appearance of hair that has been damaged physically, or by drying chemical treatments.

The naked truth

Sodium PCA is a little bit of a wonder ingredient for the skin.

Not only does it have these amazing benefits, but it is also non-comedogenic, and non-irritating to the eyes and skin. Studies have found, that even at concentrations of up to 50%, there is no evidence of sensitivity or toxicity that can be found.

If you have enjoyed reading all about this fascinating humectant, then join us here tomorrow, when I look at the benefits of Panthenol, another important humectant for the skin.

Research

The best ingredients to use in skincare formulations: https://botaneri.com/the-best-humectants-to-use-in-natural-skincare/
Safety assessment of sodium PCA: https://www.cir-safety.org/sites/default/files/pca.pdf
Skincare formulations: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/307863658
What is sodium PCA: https://thedermreview.com/sodium-pca/
The final assessment of sodium PCA: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/109158189901800206

24 thoughts on “The Benefits of Sodium PCA in Skincare

  1. Mag says:

    What a great article! I learned a lot. I was wondering if anyone knew if i could mix this in with a homemade chapstick/lipgloss. I’m trying to make something that’s moisturizing but won’t slide off the sides of my lips…lol Even in this humid heat in FL my lips are constantly chapped and cracking.

  2. Barbra says:

    So, can you use Sodium PCA straight from the bottle on wet skin after shower?
    (Which I have been doing and I mix glycerin in my body cream). Am I overdoing it? Is is better to use the glycerin straight from the bottle on out of shower wet skin?
    I’m 71 and my skin is starting to get dry an crepey (too much fun in the sun in those younger years). I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you.

    • Melissa says:

      The recommended use rate for Sodium PCA is .2 – 2.5% in a solution. It’s not recommended to apply directly to the skin. In fact, first aid instructions are to flush water over the skin if direct undiluted contact occurs. The pH is rather high at 6.8-7.4. Most generic skincare lotions/creams are in the 5.5 range. Glycerin can get quite sticky. Mixing it into an already created lotion is an option, but just know that it may throw off the preservation system of the lotion.

  3. Monica says:

    I came across this article by looking up benefits of Sodium PCA. I love this page
    How can I subscribe to your mailing list?
    Thank you
    Monica

  4. Scott Hiltabidle says:

    A couple years ago I stocked up the best I could with the focus 21 sea plasma products. I have one year of the spray moisturizer left. I’m a cancer survivor and these are the only products that were comfortable to use on my skin. Advise for a replacement would be appreciated.

  5. carol hampton says:

    Thank you for the information regarding PCA; i’VE been
    trying to purchase the product NAPCA and found out that
    Twinlab has stopped making it. I’m so disappointed;however there is still hope for me and others.
    I will be certainly looking out for other products that have
    PCA in. Thanks very much

    Carol

  6. ashley says:

    Hi, can you recommend some products that contain this ingredient? I am having trouble finding anything other than the Twinlabs spray and wanted some other options. Thx

      • R says:

        Hello, Have you found or produced a facial spray or other products with NaPca in them? I have found that the ‘Focus 21 Sea Plasma’ spray for face and hair as well as ‘Twinlabs NaPca’ are no longer available. I am currently using Nuskin facial mist which contains NaPca. Any further info would be appreciated.

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