Phytosterols in skin care

Today I wanted to talk about phytosterols in skin care, choosing ingredients is key to a good skin care regimen. Whether you are making skin care like I am or buying it, you want to ensure that the product that you are using is effective. There is no sense in wasting you money and I certainly do not want to sell skin care products that do not give results.

What are phytosterols? 

The word ‘phyto’ means plant and sterols are molecules that are similar to cholesterol. Essentially, phytosterols are plant sterols.

Our bodies cannot produce phytosterols, we rely on our diet to obtain them. Phytosterols can be found in food sources such as vegetable oils including canola, peanut, safflower, soybean, corn, wheat germ, rice bran and sesame. Avocados, pumpkin seeds and cashews are also a good source of phytosterols.

It is important to note that are are many different kinds of phytosterol. The most common phytosterols are campesterol, stigmasterol and beta-sitosterol.

According to EWG’s Skin Deep phytosterols are skin conditioning and have a low toxicity level of 1. The Cosmetic Ingredient Review also concluded that phytosterols in skin care are safe. 

Cholesterol is important for skin health. You are probably thinking that cholesterol is bad for you. Perhaps too much cholesterol is not good but our bodies need cholesterol. Cholesterol is the most common lipid in our body, it is an important for cell membranes and helps form vitamin D. Cholesterol is also needed for hormone production and is an important component of our skin’s barrier which helps protect againist dryness and infection.

As we age the cholesterol levels in our skin decrease. Lanolin is a rich source of cholesterol which has been used in skin care for a number of years. Some people are allergic to lanolin and are concerned about pesticide exposure as the lanolin comes from sheep’s wool. I will write about this in another post.

This is where phytosterols come in. Other plant derivatives such as flavonoids and isoflavones are thought to benefit the skin, more about these two in another post. Can we use phytosterols to replace cholesterol that is lost during aging?  

Phytosterols in skin care

Aging skin

As we age we lose collagen on our skin. There is an increased breakdown of collagen as well as a decrease in production of collagen. The increase in collagen breakdown is thought to be due to an increased expression of matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs).

Collagen production and phytosterols in skin care

One study showed that topical phytosterols along with ceramides can help with collagen levels. The authors concluded, “Our results indicate that phytosterols and ceramides are effective in blocking the reduced collagen synthesis after UV irradiation and even stimulating synthesis. They may be useful additions to anti-aging products.”

Another study showed that Spinasterol, a type of phytosterol can increase the synthesis of collagen and decrease the synthesis of enzymes that break down collagen,  “regulation of a set of genes associated with keratinocyte proliferation and differentiation, stimulation of hyaluronic acid synthesis and increase of epidermal thickness. Furthermore, in-vivo studies revealed that apple seed phytosterols improved skin elasticity while decreasing skin roughness. The study concluded that phytosterols displayed distinct biological effects and significantly improved the structure and function of mature skin.”

Phytosterols are thought to help reduce transepidermal water loss which can help with skin hydration. When our skin is exposed to wind, cold weather and too much sun our skin barrier protection is threatened. Phytosterols can help aid barrier protection and help prevent further water loss.

best aloe vera gelAloe phytosterols in skin care

Another study looking at aloe sterols found that, “the production of collagen and hyaluronic acid increased by approximately two-fold and 1.5-fold, and gene expression levels of these enzymes responsible for their synthesis were also observed in human dermal fibroblasts. An increase in arm skin hydration was observed at 8 weeks”

Soy phytosterols in skin care 

Some phytosterols are used in wound care for burns and there is some literature that supports better scarring with phytosterol use. There are no studies comparing phytosterols outcome with traditional burn care treatments.

Antibacterial properties of phytosterols in skin care

Phytosterols may help fight bacteria. There are some studies that support the antibacterial effects of phytosterols.

Anti-inflammatory properties of phytosterols in skin care

Phytosterols may help with inflammation, this is one of the reasons why aloe is used for sunburn. Overall, the studies are limited. Limited data from cell culture and animal studies suggest that phytosterols may attenuate the inflammatory activity of immune cells, including macrophages and neutrophils.

Antioxidant properties of phytosterols in skin care

Phytosterols appear to offer some sun protection. It has been shown to reverse ultraviolet radiation effects on collagen.

Stigmasterol a type of phytosterol was shown to have skin lightening properties.

Phytosterols are thought to help with hair loss. It is thought to inhibit the formation of an enzyme, 5-alpha reductase which plays a key role in testosterone production.

Phytosterols have a low rate of irritation which we want in any skin care ingredient. The literature supporting phytosterols in skin care benefits are limited but they do have skin conditioning properties and its use along with other skin conditioning ingredients can help hydrate the skin and protect from dryness.

Review of Ever Skin Care Overnight Facial Cellular Renewal Oil ReviewPhytosterols are found in my oil cleanser and Ever’s treatment serums

Phytosterols in our diet

The most well-known and scientifically proven benefit of phytosterols is their ability to help lower cholesterol.

According to WebMD,

Beta-sitosterol is a plant substance similar to cholesterol. It might help reduce cholesterol levels by limiting the amount of cholesterol that is able to enter the body. It can also bind to the prostate to help reduce swelling (inflammation).”

There is proven benefits for

  • “High cholesterol. Taking beta-sitosterol significantly lowers total and bad (LDL) cholesterol levels, but it does not raise good (HDL) cholesterol levels.
  • Trouble urinating because of an enlarged prostate, or “benign prostatic hyperplasia” (BPH). Taking beta-sitosterol helps the symptoms of BPH, but it does not actually shrink an enlarged prostate.”

A study in the “Annual Review of Nutrition” suggests that phytosterols may compete with cholesterol for absorption in the digestive tract. Phytosterols are not easily absorbed.

According to Oregon State, “Numerous clinical trials have demonstrated that daily consumption of phytosterols from phytosterol-enriched foods can significantly lower serum low-density lipoprotein (LDL)-cholesterol. An average phytosterol intake of 2 g/day lowers serum LDL-cholesterol by 8%-10%”. Whether or not this will affect heart disease is unknown

The use of beta-sitosterol is unproven for other uses such as asthma, allergies and arthritis.

Phytosterols and cancer

Limited data from animal studies suggest that very high intakes of phytosterols, particularly sitosterol, may inhibit the growth of breast and prostate cancer.

Case studies suggest a lower risk of ovarian, breast, stomach and lung cancer. These are observational studies., there is no definite link. I think most of us would expect to see a lower rate of cancer in people who consumed a diet with a lot of vegetables. 

Phytosterols can be sold as supplements or you can eat a healthy diet full of vegetables and plant oils.

What do you think of phytosterols in skin care?


M. B. Gupta, R. Nath, N. Srivastava, K. Shanker, K. Kishor, and K. P. Bhargava, “Anti-inflammatory and antipyretic activities of beta-sitosterol,” Planta Med., vol. 39, no. 2, pp. 157–163, Jun. 1980.

E. S. Ang, S. T. Lee, C. S. Gan, P. G. See, Y. H. Chan, L. H. Ng, and D. Machin, “Evaluating the role of alternative therapy in burn wound management: randomized trial comparing moist exposed burn ointment with conventional methods in the management of patients with second-degree burns,” MedGenMed Medscape Gen. Med., vol. 3, no. 2, p. 3, Mar. 2001.

B. S. Atiyeh, J. Ioannovich, C. A. Al-Amm, K. A. El-Musa, and R. Dham, “Improving scar quality: a prospective clinical study,” Aesthetic Plast. Surg., vol. 26, no. 6, pp. 470–476, Dec. 2002.

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