Allantoin has all the key properties of an ideal cosmetic ingredient. It is biomimetic, as it is naturally present in the human body. It is also soothing, anti-irritant, hydrating, and softening. It regenerates the skin and is tolerated extremely well. It's no surprise that allantoin is used in a host of products. It isn't always the focus of product claims, but it remains active and effective nonetheless.
Chemically speaking, allantoin is a nitrogen-based compound synthesised by the oxidation of uric acid. In nature, it was first identified in the roots of common comfrey and is also present in cereal grains.
It is also found in the blood, urine, and amniotic fluid of both animals and humans. This makes the molecule rather attractive at a time when biomimetics (the reproduction of natural, organic systems) is a growing trend in cosmetics.
There has also been quite a bit of attention given to the fact that allantoin is present in snail slime, resulting in a certain passion for cosmetics based on this mucus. One manufacturer draws attention to the fact that snails use allantoin to rebuild broken shells. So is allantoin truly reparative? Yes, and it repairs more than just snail shells!
The wonderful properties of allantoin
The list of properties of this ingredient is impressive; not many actives can claim as much without exaggerating.
The official nomenclature of cosmetic ingredients recognises its role as a soothing agent, which is the least that can be said. Allantoin is known for its anti-irritant virtues, as well as for its ability to relieve redness and tingling. It also has an anti-inflammatory action, which is particularly useful in fighting damage caused by UV radiation.
The same ingredients list also informs us that allantoin is categorised as a skin-protecting agent. This is rather generic, so let's elaborate: the substance is listed in pharmacopoeia throughout the world, and is used as an active ingredient in medicines designed to heal wounds and burns. In fact, allantoin encourages and accelerates cell proliferation. It also stimulates scar formation, particularly in the case of superficial skin lesions.
Allantoin increases the ability of the corneocytes (cells in the epidermis) to absorb water. As a result, the skin retains water more effectively and hydration is preserved.
Lastly, allantoin encourages the elimination and desquamation of dead skin cells. It interacts with cutaneous keratin to reduce the thickness of the stratum corneum, leaving skin feeling softer and more refined.
In addition to these qualities, allantoin is quite well tolerated and presents no risk of sensitisation.
With its attractive list of properties, this substance can be advantageously included in many formulas. It is an odourless, white powder compatible with most cosmetic ingredients, and it dissolves rather easily in the aqueous phase of emulsions (with better results than in alcohol or propylene glycol, for example).
In optimal doses ranging from 0.1% to 1 or 2% (usually around 0.5%), it is found in all kinds of products where soothing and regenerative properties can be useful:
• Shaving and aftershave products
• Sun protection and after-sun products
• Toothpastes and oral hygiene products
• Products for babies
• Lip care products
• Products designed for the eye area
• Face and body moisturisers
• Hand and foot reparative products
It is also used in shampoos and other hair care products for its keratolytic properties, which help to fight dandruff. In antiperspirants, it reduces the irritating effect of aluminium salts.
A great substance, but not necessarily organic!
The potential sources of allantoin run the gamut from synthetic to animal or botanical. Theoretically, it can be used in all kinds of cosmetics: conventional, natural, and organic.
But in practice (based on a search of more than 7,500 products compiled by CosmeticsObs), it is only present in conventional cosmetics formulas and in German natural cosmetics. Not a single French organic cosmetic product is made with allantoin.
Why not? We interviewed formulators from organic laboratories to unlock this mystery, and were told of "formulation habits" and a preference for other ingredients like aloe vera, whose hydrating and regenerative properties are quite similar to those of allantoin when it is combined with soothing bisabolol or calendula, for example. Aloe also presents the advantage of boosting the percentage of organic ingredients.
Again, in theory, allantoin can be used in organic products as long as it is of natural origin and is extracted in compliance with standards.
But in practice, to date, Ecocert confirms that allantoin is not on the list of acceptable organic products. The logic? 'Allantoin is not authorised because of the way it is manufactured and because it is of petrochemical origin. There may be botanical sources, but we have never certified any,' explains the certification organisation.
The reason may be that plant-based allantoin cannot be profitably extracted, causing suppliers of raw materials to shy away from investing to obtain certification. German natural cosmetics, on the other hand, are more inclined to accept 'nature-identical' substances, which is why they accept allantoin regardless of its origin and manufacturing method.