Said to be better than hyaluronic acid, trehalose, commonly found in dried mushrooms, is popping up everywhere from skincare to makeup.
Trehalose (say “tray-ha-lows”) is a sugar molecule most commonly found in dried shiitake mushroom and seaweed. It helps to restore fungi to their original condition upon rehydration – that’s why shrivelled mushrooms become springy and firm after being soaked in water. According to Dr Tan Kian Teo, dermatologist and former consultant for the National Skin Centre, the molecule forms a protective gel to stop cells from falling apart when they start to dehydrate. This enables them to resume their shape as soon as they come into contact with water.
In the beauty arena, the ingredient is a humectant that draws moisture from the environment to keep skin cells well-hydrated, and the complexion looking plump and clear. “It has high water retention capabilities. There was a study done by the Department of Ophthalmology in Okayama University Graduate School of Medicine and Dentistry, which was published in the Japanese Journal of Ophthalmology, that compared hyaluronic acid and trehalose in the treatment of dry eyes. It concluded that trehalose was superior,” says Dr Tan.
Now, beauty products are beginning to eschew the more traditional hyaluronic acid in favour of trehalose. According to Gabrielle Nevin, vice-president of global product development for Bobbi Brown Cosmetics, hyaluronic acid may not always be texturally compatible with a formulation and, in those cases, trehalose is an excellent alternative as it is a smaller molecule.
According to Lim Yiying, senior brand executive for Za, it’s also more gentle on skin, as it’s derived from botanical ingredients, with almost no chance of side effects like skin irritation. “Hyaluronic acid is still an excellent moisturising ingredient, but it’s lab-created,” she says.
However, that doesn’t mean that hyaluronic acid doesn’t have its benefits. In fact, when used together with trehalose, the two ingredients seem to synergise. “Their modes of action are slightly different: Hyaluronic acid binds water and trehalose helps prevent cellular dehydration. All Bobbi Brown skincare with trehalose also has a small amount of hyaluronic acid for a more holistic approach to hydration, which works better than the individual ingredients,” says Nevin.
While the use of trehalose is still fairly limited, Dr Tan believes that its popularity will grow since it is naturally derived and potentially safer to use, compared to most synthetic lab-based ingredients. As Nevin says: “It’s a highly stable ingredient, and will continue to be utilised in formulations that can best leverage its excellent hydration and antioxidant properties.”
The latest products with trehalose:
This article was first published in Female May 2014.