Thursday, February 25, 2010

MSM (aka dimethyl sulfone)

MSM (aka DSMO2, methylsulfone, methylsulfonylmethane, and dimethyl sulfone) is an ingredient that we see in various moisturizers, but what does it do?

Sulphur (or sulfur) is an element found in every cell of our body and we need it to live. It is considered an anti-parasitic, anti-itching, blood vessel dilating, anti-oxidizing element when used cosmetically. Its main use is in the treatment of acne or really oily skin. It can reduce sebum production and is keratolytic (exfoliating) at 3 to 10%. It's used in the treatment of dandruff in the same way. It can be quite irritating to skin, and it may actually aggravate oil production, so use with caution. It is oil soluble and can be used to 10%, although this can be irritating to most skin types.

Sulphur is also used for collagen synthesis, so it keeps collagen fibres bouncy and elastic, which encourages skin pliability and elasticity. It helps with wounded or damaged skin repair. And it helps with wound healing. When we have a scar, it can be caused by excessive cross linking patterns of collagen, and sulphur can help make that cross linking pliable and less scar-like.

As a teenager, I had this weird concoction for my acne treatment consisting of sulphur that I had to mix in two phases before using. It reeked of sulphur and it dried out my skin, but it worked!

Some of the worst stenches are caused by sulphur, found as thiols and sulphides in fruits and vegetables. (The brassica family of vegetables contains a lot of sulphur, and I won't eat a single one of them - cabbages, broccoli, mustard!)

So back to MSM. MSM is considered to have many of the cosmetic qualities of sulphur - it offers a reduction in oiliness, can help with scar and collagen flexibility, and increase blood flow. In addition, it is supposed to help with inflammation, helping with the treatment of aches and pains. It is used in arthritis related creams and ointments and hair care products intended for dandruff or oil control.

Does it stand up to scrutiny? Yes, and no. It can aggravate sebum production in products, so keep it below 5% in hair and skin care products intended for this purpose. Although studies are showing promise for MSM taken internally, there have been few studies on topically applied MSM. Initial results are showing it can increase circulation and there are self-reports that it offers pain relief, but we may need more research to say anything definitive about MSM.

It is hygroscopic - meaning it is a humectant - and we buy it in a white powdery form that is water soluble, so it is easier and less stinky to use than sulphur powder. We add it in the heated water phase of our lotions and other creations so it will dissolve properly. When added to lotions and other emulsified things, it can cool down and leave shards behind that are most unpleasant on the skin if not properly dissolved (it's a lot like allantoin in that way). Start at 1% and see how you like it in your products - you can use it up to 5% for products intended for oily hair or skin related products, up to 10% for pain relief.

Join me tomorrow for fun formulating with alpha hydroxy acids, then fun with horsetail extract - filled to the brim with MSM, alpha hydroxy acids, silica, and more!

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