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 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!)
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!