Lecithin at a glance

  • Replenishing ingredient that improves skin’s moisture retention
  • Well known for its versatility as an emulsifying agent in cosmetic formulas
  • Can also be used to encapsulate key ingredients to achieve improved dermal delivery
  • Typically derived from soy, sunflower and rapeseed in cosmetic formulas
  • Long track record of safety in skin care products

Lecithin description

Lecithin in skin care formulations serves a variety of roles including functioning as an emollient (think softening), water-binding agent (to boost hydration), and emulsifying agent (to help water + oil ingredients mesh better in a formula). Lecithin is naturally present in many living organisms, but in cosmetic formulas it’s almost always derived from plants such as soy, sunflower or rapeseed. Lecithin’s beneficial components include phospholipids (which convey skin-restoring benefits), fatty acids and triglycerides that can help replenish skin. Lecithin can also be used to encapsulate a wide range of active ingredients allowing for a better dermal delivery system. Lecithin’s appearance as a raw material varies based on the origin and extraction process, but in cosmetic use it typically presents as a viscous liquid or as powder. In a safety assessment conducted in 2020, the highest concentration of lecithin that was reported was 50% in a leave-on foot product, which was deemed safe. Facial skin care products typically safely contain much lower concentrations than that, usually between 0.5-2%.

Lecithin references

  • Cosmetics, November 2020, pages 1-19
  • International Journal of Toxicology, September 2020, pages 5S-25S
  • Molecules, March 2020, pages 1-9
  • Journal of the American Oil Chemists' Society, March 2014, pages 1,093-1,101
  • Scientia Pharmaceutica, July 2013, pages 1,151-1,166

Peer-reviewed, substantiated scientific research is used to assess ingredients in this dictionary. Regulations regarding constraints, permitted concentration levels and availability vary by country and region.

Ingredient ratings


Proven and supported by independent studies. Outstanding active ingredient for most skin types or concerns.


Necessary to improve a formula's texture, stability, or penetration.


Generally non-irritating but may have aesthetic, stability, or other issues that limit its usefulness.


There is a likelihood of irritation. Risk increases when combined with other problematic ingredients.


May cause irritation, inflammation, dryness, etc. May offer benefit in some capability but overall, proven to do more harm than good.


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Not Rated