Friday, March 11, 2011

Cosmeceuticals: MSM (methylsulfonylmethane)

I wrote about MSM on February 25, 2010, but I thought I'd do an update. The new information is in italic! 

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.

One small study took a look at the use of silymarin and MSM for rosacea. The results look promising in that after 20 days there was a reduction in redness, papules, itching, hydration, and skin colour in those using the lotion. There is no indication of how much of each ingredient was used in said study, but given where the MSM shows up on the ingredient list (before propylene glycol and just after the first emollient), it seems like they used quite a bit. 

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.

One thing to consider with MSM is its stability. Thanks to those two lovely oxygen atoms, it can oxidize a lotion with it quicker than a lotion without it. In other words, we need to include some anti-oxidants to increase its shelf life. But don't use Vitamin C! This normally wonderful vitamin can actually speed up the oxidation when combined with MSM! 

Join me tomorrow for another exciting cosmeceutical - DMAE! I'm going to be formulating with a few of these cosmeceuticals next week, but I thought we should go over how to do it first!


Nancy Liedel said...

Thank you Susan. I have a friend with Rosacea and I'd love to help. So far, I've been looking at properties of some exotic carrier oils and pearl/silk powder once a day at night. I think a cream, carefully made with 3% msm and a couple of things I've yet to figure out, is a start. Yes, I'm remembering to keep it simple. Change one thing in a recipe, then move on.

sfs said...

Sounds like something I'd like to play with. Do you have a source for this?

Mychelle said...

Thank you for this post. I have been curious about this ingredient.

Anonymous said...

Hi Susan,

Have you heard anything about MSM being used as a preservative in cosmetics? cosmetics has an article stating it has self preservation properties at 10%
I think that's kinda high and might not be aesthetically pleasing in a lotion.

terriblybadgrrl said...

I love MSM, and add it liberally to my concoctions. Your comment re it's oxidizing property has alarmed me. Could you please elaborate on this, as well as possibly enlighten as to how do I tell if an ingredient I might use, might be an oxidizing agent?
I've noticed that quite a few of the ingredients in my 'tool box' (i.e. Cetyl Alcohol) warn of reactivity and incompatibility with strong oxidizing agents, and /or strong mineral acids.
It threw me for a loop. I also include R lipoic Acid, for one. I suppose I might want to check it's PH. Still, this is puzzling, to say the least.

Alexis said...

The supplier I buy MSM from says to heat it to a minimum of 180F/82.2C. I found that it needs to be held at that temperature or higher for about 20 minutes. I measure out other ingredients while I'm waiting for it, so sometimes the hold is longer than 20 min.

I used to just heat MSM and water to 180F then let it cool to 70C before heating and holding at 70C with the other ingredients in the water phase, but the emulsions would separate anywhere from a week to a month later. After holding at the higher temp, I have emulsions that have not separated yet! Now, that's just the water and MSM. If there's other ingredients in the water phase, I add them to the MSM solution after it's cooled down to 70C and then hold again for 20 min.

I do make small batches and can't bring myself to set some aside for quality control purposes, and hence I can't say anything about long term stability of the emulsions. But I have been able to use as much 12% MSM. My tester friend really likes it in the lotions I give him.

aliena josph said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Valerie Tinga said...

Hi Susan, and thank you for all the wonderful information you have graciously given over the years.
I suppose i could conduct my own test to answer my question but asking you is so much easier, lol

At the end of first paragraph under heading of "Sulphur" you write it is OIL soluble but then later
write to add to heated water phase? Then I read some comments how difficult it is to dissolve in water.
Should I add to my oil phase instead?

Any thoughts on this would be enormously appreciated.
I hope you are enjoying this incredible summer.

Your friend,
Valerie Tinga

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Valerie! Sulphur is oil soluble, but MSM is water soluble, so we put it into the heated water phase. Please make sure you put it into the heated oil phase so it'll dissolve well!

Valerie Tinga said...

I mistook what you were saying about Sulphur as being about MSM.
Thank you for clarifying this for me.
You always so helpful.
Kind regards.

still learning said...

Hey Everyone

Susan, thanks for the article. Do I have this correct? MSM is the cosmetic grade/version of sulfur that is safe to use on skin. I've been looking to purchase some to use on my skin because of acne but I've been trying to just buy sulfur. I should have been looking to use MSM. I'm only planning to mix it with some exfoliants to make a masque. Thanks for the feedback!!

still learning said...

By the way, where can I buy methylsulfonylmethane from (of good quality)? It's hard Thanks, again.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Still Learning! I get mine at Voyageur Soap & Candle. If you need other suppliers, you can find a list of them in the FAQ!

still learning said...

Hey Everyone

Has anyone tried dissolving MSM in a heated water phase rather that a heated water phase? If so, did it actually completely dissolve in the oil? I'm would make to make a masque or scrub without using water so any and all feedback is very much appreciated.

Valerie Tinga said...

Hi still learning,
I haven't tried in oil because I've already asked Susan about this. (Comments above)
I believe it is water soluble. I took the last sentence to be typo since she had stated in sentence before that is water soluble.
I hope this helps. But I you try it and it works, let me know!! :-)

Valerie Tinga said...

Hi still learning,
I haven't tried in oil because I've already asked Susan about this. (Comments above)
I believe it is water soluble. I took the last sentence to be typo since she had stated in sentence before that is water soluble.
I hope this helps. But I you try it and it works, let me know!! :-)

still learning said...


Noticed my typo. I meant to ask if msm could be placed in the heated oil phase but read online and in the comments here that it has to be used in heated water phase. I was trying to avoid using a preservative but now I have to due to the water.

Unknown said...

I bought some MSM from Voyaguer after seeing it as an ingredient in a muscle ointment from my chiropractor. I am not sure how to use it though in muscle rub, especially after searching a bit and finding it is used mainly in shampoo and skin cream. Can you please help me or suggest something. I want to make a nice muscle/Arthritis lotion/rub. Thank you.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Unknown! I've addressed your question in today's Weekend Wonderings.

Hi still learning. Why avoid preservatives? There are some great ones out there that you use at such a tiny amount! They keep you safe and keep your products from becoming contaminated.

Mirror_Sound said...

Hi Swift,

I've been in the market for a simple Vitamin C serum (mainly cause start up cost of it cost and arm and leg for a stable form), and two Vit C serums I've eyed out on amazon contain MSM right after the Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate! Both reputable products (1.5k and 3.5k user reviews is nothing to sneeze at). These serums contain Vit C at 20%, and MSM right after, indicating a fair amount (3% perhaps) is included.

What do you think this is about? Seeing as how MSM and Vit C would exacerbate oxidation. Do you think this is intentional to get consumers to buy another bottle sooner? Just wanted to see if you could make heads of it :/

Dan & El said...

Hi there Susan!
Is MSM heat stable? Meaning, can I add it to hot water and hold it at that heat without losing potency?
Thank you !