We don’t often like to get to technical here at The Naked Chemist.

So we sure are glad, that the ingredient Sodium Pyroglutamic Acid goes by the more common name of Sodium PCA.

What is sodium PCA

Technically: It is the sodium salt of Pyroglutamic Acid, a naturally occurring Amino Acid known as Proline, that is found in proteins.

The potassium salts or sodium is what makes the molecule water soluble and an effective humectant.

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

How sodium PCA is created

It is a completely natural ingredient that is derived from plants, fruits and coconut oil.

 A fermentation process of sugars and starches is used, in order to create PCA.

Properties and Uses

Interestingly, this ingredient is one of the major components of our skins’ natural moisturizing factor (NMF), found at around 12%.

Both Sodium PCA and Urea, are ingredients that bind moisture to our skins cells.

When our skin has a good balance of oils and fats (lipids), our skin is well lubricated and has a smooth and healthy surface glow.

Retains moisture: In the world of skincare, it is considered an important humectant, this is due to the fact that it is extremely water absorbent and can hold several times its weight in water, thus helping to reduce loss of moisture, through evaporation.

In cosmetic chemistry, it is thought of as a stronger hydrating agent than traditional ingredients, such as Glycerine and Propylene Glycol.

Anti-ageing: Our skin naturally contains PCA, but as we age these levels drop quite considerably.

Protecting: Previously we’ve talked about the role of the acid mantle, and the inter-cellular glue that holds our skin cells together, which can be likened to the mortar that holds bricks together.

PCA is an important component of this intracellular matrix, preventing our skin cells from losing water and drying out.

Reduces inflammation: PCA is a great ingredient for helping to protect the acid mantle, it reduces inflammation in our skin, which it does by preventing surface irritation from becoming too serious, and penetrating deep into the epidermis.


  • It is a clear almost syrupy liquid, that is soluble in water
  • PCA is considered a low hazardous ingredient
  • Studies have shown that even in concentrations up to 40%, no evidence of sensitivity or toxicity can be found
  • I love the texture that sodium PCA gives to my products, it isn’t sticky and doesn’t alter the viscosity of the products in any way

Join me here tomorrow, when I look at the benefits of Panthenol, another fantastic humectant.


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