Polyglutamic acid: the new (old) ingredient that’s having its time to shine

While mindlessly scrolling on my phone waiting for my coffee to kick in, I did a dead stop on an article talking about the next best thing when it comes to ingredients in moisturizers: polyglutamic acid. The dryness in my skin has been top of mind since I just did a shellacking with Dr. Schrammek’s Green Peel (review coming soon) and woefully staring out my window at the impending Chicago winter while the temps plummet.

Somewhat of an ingredient connoisseur, I honestly had no idea about polyglutamic acid so I decided to do a little research and share!

What is polyglutamic acid?

Polyglutamic acid (PGA) is made up of a chain of glutamic acid molecules (hence the “poly”) which are derived from various fermented Bacillus. You might see the ingredient called polyglutamic acid, PGA, gamma-poly-glutamic acid, poly-y-glutamic acid or yPGA. Although it has the word “acid” as part of the name, it is not the exfoliating type like glycolic or salicylic acids. PGA is a topical humectant. It draws moisture to it like a sponge and helps to keep skin moisturized. According to Lee et al (2013) PGA also has promising capabilities in the realm of ACE inhibitors and antimicrobial applications. It’s biodegradable, nontoxic and inexpensive.

Although PGA has been around for decades, recent shifts in understanding the complexity of aging related to the skin, the ingredients best used to combat them and skincare companies clamoring for the next big buzzworthy ingredient, it’s now having a bit of time to shine as a stand alone against another similar ingredient (and still also very buzzworthy), hyaluronic acid (HA).

How it works

There are scientists much smarter than I, and an expert in chemistry (which I am not). But for simple terms, PGA’s function is to act like a sponge to moisture. Part of my personal speculation on why PGA is hitting the headlines is as mentioned there’s a new shiny name in the beauty industry (I admit, I didn’t know what it was and here I am writing about it), but gone are also the days of promoting that HARSH IS MORE EFFECTIVE (all caps for extra affect). Walnut shell scrubs! Acids and retinols strong enough to peel the paint off furniture! Astringents harsh enough to spit shine a vintage motor! We’ve thankfully gotten smarter to understand that exfoliating is important. Antibacterial agents are important. But moisturizing and protecting the skin is also equally (if not more) important. Like glycerin, niacinamide, ceramides and hyaluronic acid, PGA is like a refreshing splash of spectacular nourishment for your skin. Properly moisturized skin glows, has diminished fine lines, functions in harmony and has a visible, youthful vitality to it.

PGA is said to hold thousands of times its molecular weight in moisture which makes it an incredible ingredient in skincare focused on plumping and protecting the skin. If the antimicrobial aspects pan out, it could also be a very interesting ingredient for acne-prone people that may suffer from sensitized, dry skin that can accompany anti-acne treatments. You have my attention, PGA!

Polyglutamic acid vs. hyaluronic acid

PGA and HA are very similar in their function for skincare. PGA is showing promise for holding even more times its molecular weight in moisture – thousands vs. hundreds – compared to HA. PGA’s molecules are larger, which means that it will not penetrate the skin. HA, on the other hand, is a smaller molecule that can get deep into the layers of the skin and plump it from inside (where our bodies make our own HA). Which leads me to…

Some good things come in pairs which is exactly how you should think of PGA and hyaluronic acid.

Something very important to point out here, is that much like HA, PGA will soak up what it has available. Whether it be moisture from the air, from your skin, or from other skincare items, it does not discern. A pitfall many experience with HA is that they don’t provide any moisture for it to draw up, so it grabs it from your skin (or makeup, or other item) which causes dehydration and dryness. Moisture begets moisture. Start with a moisturized base and even a spritz here and there of a moisturizing toner throughout the day will make your humectants (and your skin), plumped up, bouncy and happy.

Final thoughts

We need hyaluronic acid to help plump the skin and replenish what we lose. PGA may be even more helpful topically especially in winter months when harsh winds, dry artificial heat and hot showers turn our skin into a battle ground for moisture. I’m not suggesting that you chose one or the other, but look for PGA as an ingredient for really effective moisturizers.

I’ve added about three things to my list to buy, including added this inexpensive option from The InkyList.

Do you have items with PGA that you love? Drop us a line in the comments.

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