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What is MSM and What Does It Do?

You may be familiar with the benefits of MSM from food sources or as a nutritional supplement taken orally. But are you aware of its benefits in skin care products? I’ve been using MSM  in our Neos products from the beginning.  And with good reason.  Others are now catching up and finding out just how great MSM is for the skin in topical applications and as a beneficial beauty assistant.

The Rundown On MSM

Methylsulfonylmethane, or MSM as it is more commonly known, is an organic sulfur. Naturally-occurring and often found in plants, fruits, vegetables, meats, and dairy products, it’s in many of the foods we eat regularly.  It’s also a naturally-occurring compound found in the human body, although the body’s production of it does tend to diminish as we age, peaking at around the age 35 and decreasing thereafter. Internally, MSM supplies sulfur to the body which plays key roles in many of the body’s processes. Since extraction of naturally occurring MSM from plants and food sources is difficult and low yielding, MSM dietary supplements typically are synthetic forms of the sulfur. But I do want to stress here as with any lab created version of a natural substance or compound, the molecules of natural and synthetic forms are exactly the same. Therefore, they will perform in the same manner and the body will receive and process them exactly the same. Lab created synthetic chemical molecules are exact duplicated replicas of their natural counterparts. Just an FYI for those who may not realize there’s no difference in the natural or synthetic forms of any given elemental chemical or compound at the molecular foundations.

That said, from a health standpoint, methylsulphonymethane preparations using natural or synthetic forms of the sulfur are widely known to assist with multiple issues within the body that can cause quality of life concerns when it’s orally consumed in correct dosages. It’s been quite successful in helping those with acute as well as chronic pain and inflammation from osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis. It’s well documented to help improve mobility and flexibility and is known throughout the scientific community to support connective tissues which can in turn, reduce discomfort from issues surrounding the joints due to wear and tear or injury. I myself took it internally in supplementary form along with chondroitin and glucosamine consistently over a span of a number of years prior to having knee replacement surgery in 2008 for severe osteoarthritis in my knee caused by an accident when I was a young teen.  It did help considerably and even my orthopedic surgeon said it probably allowed me to avoid joint replacement a little longer. MSM can and often does provide relief for those experiencing joint pain and inflammation from known or unknown causes. It also has a pretty good track record for relieving symptoms from common environmental nasal allergies and post exercise stress to joints and muscles. It’s also reported to help alleviate the flair ups and even prevent gastric ulcers and oxidative stress and inflammation in the stomach tissue and digestive system.


That’s All Well and Good, But How Does It Benefit The Skin?

While more extensive studies with peer review and substantiated replicated results are needed, there is enough scientific evidence to support and justify the use of MSM in skin care for multiple benefits to beautify cosmetically as well as in skin treatments through medical means. In several research studies, it reduced inflammation and redness in those experiencing rosacea, acne, eczema and other skin concerns.  Additionally, evidence has been established that MSM can improve skin by supporting and facilitating normal skin function and regeneration and  the production of collagen and elastin. Likewise, it was shown to strengthen hair and nails while encouraging the production of keratin when included in hair and nail products. Even more encouraging, methylsulfonylmethane has clearly and repeatedly shown to have the unique ability to act as a penetration enhancer in topical preparations, helping to carry beneficial properties from the other ingredients or needed medications into the deeper layers of the skin with the potential of subcutaneous absorption being present. This makes it a substance worth exploring for both the cosmetics and health care industries.

I really want to point out something here. Notice I said “into the deeper layers of the skin” above. Not into the body. Remember our skin is a barrier with multiple layers of cells stacked, laid and inter-connected that makes up the multiple structural layers the skin. Anatomically, very little can penetrate beyond the the epidermis layer of our skin. Penetration and absorption of substances and compounds, either as a whole or on a molecular level, through the two main structural layers of skin, the epidermis and dermis layers, is not a normal action, regardless of what the internet says. It’s extremely difficult and almost unheard of for the large majority of chemical substances to penetrate and absorb into the bloodstream and internal body through the skin. The 500 Dalton Rule applies. Without intentional assistance, the likelihood of absorption through the skin into the bloodstream or internal tissues is just not part of the equation. That applies to all chemicals and dermal exposures.

There is some evidence that MSM may penetrate the skin barrier and get absorbed into the bloodstream under the right conditions and in carefully formulated products intended for health care. But the scientific jury is still out on that one. For cosmetic purposes, this isn’t something we want or need and formulations are not designed for that purpose. So it’s not applicable. Even if MSM can penetrate through the brick wall-like maze of cells and layers of the skin as a general rule, that doesn’t mean it will act as a “carrier” to deliver or push other substances beyond the skin into the bloodstream and internal tissue. And even if it did, that doesn’t mean our bodies will not filter out anything it cannot use or that these compounds will have a cumulative or negative effect within the body. This is important to know and remember with every chemical substance and compound, including any ingredient found in any topical application and finished products as a whole.

What Are The Cosmetic Applications Here?

I want to be clear that cosmetics are clearly defined by federal regulations and are specific to beauty and appearance. They are not health related products intended for therapeutic use or to treat, heal, cure or mitigate physical health conditions, diseases, or illnesses. Nor meant to affect the structure or function of the body of humans or animals. That would qualify them as a drug per the FD&C Act. Neos is a small artisan cosmetic company selling cosmetic products. Please remember that.

So let’s look at what MSM can do in cosmetic products. Quite simply, when formulated into them in a cohesive and compatible manner, it supports the skin and helps skin care products work better. As I said earlier, there is clear evidence it enhances skin penetration and can help “carry” actives and beneficial chemical compound into the skin where they can provide desired properties and benefits to improve the appearance and feel of skin. Because it’s generally non-irritating and can be easily absorbed into the skin, when used properly in formulations, it has the capability to deliver its own benefits and those of accompanying ingredients where they can do the  most good in the skin. But it doesn’t do this willy nilly. Intentional design and formulation of products is critical to this process of benefit. So if you are reading and are into DIY’ing, keep this in mind and don’t just go trying to add MSM into your DIY’d concoctions. MSM itself has the ability to assist with reduction of skin stress and triggers while supporting the skin’s natural production and functionality to maintain the skin barrier and the formation and production of vital substances such as.  It contributes to the overall health and condition of skin, hair and nails by promoting the body’s natural formation of collagen and elastin along with keratin which is need for strong, healthy hair and nails. It’s also been reported to have anti-aging properties by helping slow and deter wrinkle formation, reduce the appearance of existing wrinkles, and aid in discolorations that can be a factor with age.  Some scientific research and evidences shows MSM  aids in normal skin processes and enhancing skin’s ability to recover from environmental and internal stress, damage, and triggers. It assists normal cell formation as well as cell turnover. In other words, it helps us age gracefully, brings life to the skin and helps us achieve a more smooth and vibrant skin feel and younger appearance.

If you look at the image above, the MSM used in cosmetics and topical applications usually comes in a fine crystalline powder form. It’s 100% water-soluble, making it easy to dissolve in aqueous liquids. In this hydrolyzed form, MSM’s molecules are more easily absorbed and transportable into the skin. Overall, in topical products and dermal applications, MSM is big on benefits without presenting the same or equal risks other chemicals with similar functions and attributes might.


SO….Why Do We Use MSM In The Majority Of Our Products?

Well, I won’t say all of the above applies to our products but based in the research I’ve done on MSM for cosmetic use in products, it’s really a no brainer for me.  I use it because it’s a good skin care ingredient that can accentuate and help deliver other ingredients in the products to the skin where their value lies in improving the feel and appearance of skin. It is such a wonderful ingredient that enhances all the other ingredients while contributing to the youthful skin goals on a grand scale.  The evidence of its abilities in beauty and skin care formulations is remarkable and solid enough scientifically that I’ve been including it in formulations for well over a decade.  As you become familiar with Neos and our products, you will see MSM listed as an ingredient on almost all our products, from our lotions and creams to our body mists to our facial products and serums. It’s used at various percentages specific the each individual product formula to provide a synergistic effect in the final product. Our anhydrous (all oil, no water or equivalent) products such as massage and body oils, balms and such do not contain MSM.  The only reason I don’t use it in these is because the highly concentrated crystalline MSM powder I use is water soluble and will not dissolve in oils. Years of development went into formulating our products to include MSM as an active ingredient. I believe it’s definitely one of the reasons our products works so well and make a noticeable difference to the look and feel of skin.  As far as I’m concerned, it is one of the “must have” water-soluble ingredients in any and all of the water-based/water-containing products we offer.

How Will I Know It When I See It?

If you look for MSM on the Neos products and labels, it will be listed as it’s common name, MSM, along with the INCI name “dimethylsulfonymethane”.

So there you have it. Our secret is out. MSM. Other companies may claim they are the first to use it but truthfully, we developed products with it long before it was more commonly known in skin care and in many cases long before those companies existed. It’s an ingredient that has graced Neos products from day one of our opening as an artisan cosmetics company and long before the first product was ever sold. It’s just one of the reasons why Neos products are so fabulous and effective.

NOTE:  MSM is a sulfur compound and should not to be confused with sulfa, which some people find they are allergic to.  They are very different in chemical composition. For more on this, I recommend you read the following article.  

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