If you’re also passionate about skincare, you’d also scrutinise the ingredients lists of the skincare products you use or are interested in. As a fellow skincare connoisseur, you’re in the know (pun intended) about all the wonderful, sometimes strange ingredients added into skincare products.

Keeping up with all the latest and greatest in skincare is no easy feat… but this blog is also about giving tips about what skincare ingredients are kind to the skin as well as the environment (since earlier or later they get washed down the drains). And also what skincare ingredients can help with different skin concerns.

Did you ever happen to come upon an ingredient called “betaine” and wondered what it is and why it was added?

In the 19th century, it was discovered in sugar beet (Beta vulgarisms), which lends it its name. Its structure gives it one of its other name trimethylglycine. It’s also known as TMG and glycine betaine.

Photo by Marco Verch Professional Photographer

Betaine is an amino and can also be found and derived from other foods such as shellfish, wheat bran, spinach, and broccoli.

This small molecule also naturally occurs in our skin and body. It’s involved in various essential biological functions and we get it through our diet. Our bodies need it to protect our brain, liver, kidneys. Betaine protects the cells, proteins, and enzymes in our bodies from osmotic stress. It is also needed to break down fats in our bodies.

What Does Betaine Do?

Thanks to its structure betaine can easily form hydrogen bonds with water and other molecules so it can attract and hold water very well. This makes it a very attractive humectant that compared to glycerine – probably the most well-known humectant – is not sticky. On the contrary, it lends the product containing it a silky and smooth texture. This is due to it being an osmolyte.

Structure of betaine

Remember your bio lessons in school talking about osmosis? This is the process when water flows in or out of cells, depending on the salt and sugar concentrations of each cell (read dehydrated cell). An osmolyte helps control osmosis. If one cell or area is dehydrated, then osmosis allows the flow of water into that area to create a balance.

Should a cell undergo osmosis and get dehydrated, it loses cell volume and can ultimately lead to its death. Now imagine that happening to an entire area, you’d get dry, papery even flaky skin. As an osmolyte, betaine can help a cell attract water and better control its water-balance. And as we know, hydrated skin has a more youthful appearance without fine lines or sagging.

Benefits Of Betaine

Even if betaine can be found in many sources and is available in large quantities at a very affordable price, it’s a little known ingredient in skincare.


Since it binds water, it has a plumping effect that help reduce the appearance of wrinkles. Ongoing studies have shown that it can promote the growth of fibroblasts which produce collagen and elastin.


Betaine is soothing and calming on the skin. As a molecule that naturally occurs in our bodies, it’s less irritating than water. It reduces sensitivity and helps maintain the skin barrier.

Its anti-inflammatory properties also help to lighten dark spots. It’s not clear how, but it may be that betaine acts as an anti-inflammatory to prevent (over-)stimulating the melanocytes.


Keep your skin hydrated is essential for the general health of your skin. Dehydrated skin is susceptible to damage, infection, dullness, and premature wrinkles.

As a humectant, betaine binds the water molecule to itself and in doing so increases your skin’s water retention, moisture absorption, and provides deeper hydration.

This makes it also an ideal ingredient for hair care products, giving hair more strength and hydration so that it looks shiny, is more elastic and strong.

Is Betaine Safe?

Since betaine is involved with our biological process and naturally occurs in our bodies, it’s a safe, non-irritating ingredient that helps improve our skin health and is suitable for all skin types.

The Environmental Working Group (or EWG) has listed betaine as safe for use when formulated to be non-irritating.

Imagine, betaine, a byproduct when processing sugar beets into sugar, has so many benefits for skin and hair.

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