If you nerd out for researching skin-care ingredients, add allantoin to the top of your list. While the ingredient doesn't get the same level of attention as, say, salicylic or hyaluronic acids, it's incorporated into many skin-care formulas, so you may have noticed it listed on some of your favorite items.
What's interesting is that allantoin is actually a chemical compound that occurs naturally in your body, but when used in skin care, it's sometimes made synthetically in a lab. (It can also be extracted from some plants including comfrey or chamomile.) It's made its way into your beauty products thanks to its status as a triple threat. "Its main purpose in skin care is as a skin-soothing agent," says David Petrillo, cosmetic chemist and founder of Perfect Image. "It is also moisturizing and can also help clear out dead skin cells." Some small studies have found that topical treatments that specifically combine allantoin with onion extract may help reduce the appearance of surgical scars, notes Suzan Obagi, M.D., associate professor of dermatology and plastic surgery at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. These studies may suggest that properties of allantoin can help facilitate a wound's transition from an inflammatory state to a state of tissue regeneration, but additional research is needed to say for certain, according to an article published in The Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.
"There is very little research published on this agent although it has been around for many decades," says Dr. Obagi. "Therefore many of the claims as to its benefits might be anecdotal." So you probably won't be surprised to find out that allantoin gets treated more like a sidekick than the leading role in skin care. "This isn't an ingredient that stands alone, at least not often, and rather, it's additional support in formulas that seek to hydrate, moisturize, or exfoliate," says Petrillo. "You will see it paired with things such as hyaluronic acid for hydration, or glycolic acid for exfoliation, and niacinamide. These have significant backing [from research] in their own right." (Related: 12 Soothing, Hydrating Oatmeal Products Your Skin and Hair Need This Winter)
Allantoin is probably most useful in moisturizers that are meant to calm down redness and irritation, says Petrillo. "The benefits of allantoin are straightforward: It helps to soothe the skin while supporting cell turnover and providing a moisturizing effect," he says. "Out of those three benefits, soothing the skin and moisturizing the skin pair the best together, so it may be more valuable in a moisturizer that seeks to soothe the skin. In an exfoliant formula, usually, the heavy lifting will be done by the glycolic acid or another alpha hydroxy acid (AHA)."
If you want to get even more specific, check that a formula includes an occlusive ingredient (one that provides a seal that helps prevent moisture loss) alongside the allantoin, suggests Dr. Obagi. Why? Allantoin is categorized as a humectant, meaning it draws water to the surface layer of the skin (epidermis) from the underlying middle layer of the skin (dermis), as well as a keratolytic, meaning it helps to break down bonds between the aforementioned dead skin cells, explains Dr. Obagi. "The key is finding a moisturizer that has allantoin in it but is balanced with an occlusive agent to counter too much loss of moisture to the environment once it gets to the skin surface," she says. If you're acne-prone, though, you always want to avoid using a moisturizer with occlusives as this can contribute to acne, she adds. Thick occlusives can trap dead skin cells and bacteria that ultimately lead to breakouts.
Got all that? Now that you have some background on allantoin, here are a few skin-soothing products that feature the ingredient.
Vivant Skin Care Allantoin Sedating & Hydrating Lotion
This moisturizer is intended to relieve dry, irritated, and/or sunburned skin by reducing redness and inflammation and facilitating hydration. (Related: The Best After-Sun Lotions for Your Parched Skin and Lobster-Red Burn)
Derma E Scar Gel
Remember those studies on the effects of onion and allantoin on surgical scars? This scar gel combines allantoin and onion bulb extract with moisturizing panthenol. (Related: How to Get Rid of Scars for Good)
Paula's Choice CALM Redness Relief Moisturizer for Normal to Oily Skin
As the name suggests, this moisturizer's aim is to bring down redness while hydrating skin. Made for skin on the normal-to-oily end of the spectrum, it contains ingredients such as anti-inflammatory licorice root and green tea extracts.
Dr. Jart Cryo Rubber Mask with Soothing Allantoin
Dr. Jart's two-step rubber mask is inspired by the effects of cryotherapy. This "soothing" variety combines allantoin and centella asiatica, another ingredient that potentially encourages wound healing.
Cetaphil Soothing Gel-Cream with Aloe
If you're in need of a body lotion, you can try out Cetaphil Soothing Gel-Cream with Aloe. It's formulated to provide quick relief and protection from future environmental aggressors for dry, cracked skin.
Indeed Labs 10balm Cream
Named the "10balm Cream" because it contains 10 ingredients selected for their skin-healing potential, this moisturizer promises to hydrate and calm sensitized skin.