The Most Commonly Used Gums in Beauty Products and What They Do

  • The most common gums in skin-care products are guar gum, acacia gum, xanthan gum, and locust-bean gum.
  • Gums are typically harmless and safe to use in cosmetics.
  • Gums are often used for enhancing or changing the consistency of products.

Sometimes, the label on your favorite face cream or body lotion grabs your attention — not because of the chic packaging, but because of the ingredients list. What are those hard-to-pronounce ingredients, and why are they present in your serum?

One such skin-care ingredient is gum, of which there are many kinds. Some common gums used in skin care are guar gum, acacia gum, xanthan gum, and locust-bean gum. We tapped board-certified dermatologist Arash Akhavan, MD, FAAD, to explain exactly why gums are used in skin care.

Guar Gum

Guar gum mainly serves as a natural thickener and emulsifier that enhances the consistency of products. Often a go-to in hair care, guar gum is a polysaccharide (like starch or cellulose) that comes from guar beans grown everywhere from the US to India to Australia. In soap, it acts as a surfactant-enhancing lather, and in something like shaving cream, its thickening properties go to work to create that luscious foam that allows razors to glide across skin. It also has some conditioning properties and acts as a preservative in products.

Acacia Gum

As the name suggests, acacia gum comes from acacia trees — the sap, to be specific. Acacia gum doesn't really enhance viscosity; rather, it emulsifies water and oil. "It helps skin-care products stick to the skin but also helps lock in moisture and is very common in not only lipsticks, mascara, and sunscreens, but also in products such as cleansers, serums, and masks," Dr. Akhavan says. It's also in foods like gum (obviously), yogurt, and baked goods.

Xanthan Gum

Ever wonder where that gel-like, slippery consistency in your serums comes from? It's likely xanthan gum. The naturally derived ingredient is safe and found in pretty much every category of cosmetics and most food types, Dr. Akhavan says: "It acts as a thickener and emulsifier to help produce stable emulsions of oil and water." Xanthan gum is natural, created from sugar derived from wheat, corn, or soy. It's really pretty innocuous — it functions like corn starch to improve the texture of products and prevent them from separating.

Locust-Bean Gum

This vegan thickener comes from the seeds of carob trees. Known for its ability to change the viscosity of products (it has a great gelling capacity), it's found in gel formulas, creams, and lotions in both hair care and skin care.