What The Heck is Phytosphingosine and what is it Doing in My Skin Care Products?

What is phytosphingosine and why is it good for skin?

The name sounds super scientific, but phytosphingosine is actually just a lipid, or a type of fat.

It’s naturally found in the outer layer of your skin as well as in many plants and animals.

When added to skin care products, phytosphingosine enhances skin’s barrier function. A strong skin barrier protects the body from allergens and irritants and helps lock in moisture.

“Phytosphingosine is considered a precursor to ceramides, which are the dominant fat that fills in the cracks between skin cells,” says Joshua Zeichner, MD, the director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital’s department of dermatology. In other words, phytosphingosine combines with other lipids to form ceramide.

Because phytosphingosine also has antimicrobial and has anti-inflammatory properties, it’s useful in treating conditions like acne, adds Zeichner.

Some animal research suggests that the anti-inflammatory actions of phytosphingosine derivatives might even make the ingredient effective at treating inflammatory skin conditions.

“Phytosphingosine is used in skin care products to treat a variety of inflammatory skin conditions, such as eczema,” says Zeichner.

Where is it found?

You won’t find creams or pills with phytosphingosine as the sole ingredient. It’s listed alongside other barrier-reconstructing ingredients, such as ceramides and hyaluronic acid, in moisturizing serums, creams, toners, and makeup.

Zeichner recommends CeraVe Moisturizing Cream, which contains a blend of phytosphingosine, ceramides, and hyaluronic acid to help repair the outer skin layer and hydrate skin. “This is a fragrance-free, all-purpose moisturizer that can be used on the body and even on the face,” says Zeichner.

Here are a few other available skin care products that contain phytosphingosine:

  • Paula’s Choice Skin Balancing Toner: With phytosphingosine, sodium hyaluronate, and ceramides, this lightweight daily toner provides light hydration that’s meant to balance oily skin.
  • bareMinerals Blemish Rescue Anti-Redness Mattifying Primer: Developed for acne-prone skin, this makeup primer contains zinc, sulfur, and clay to help clear pores, and phytosphingosine to boost skin’s defenses against bacteria.
  • Summer Fridays Jet Lag Mask: This hydrating mask boasts barrier-boosting phytosphingosine, ceramides, and vitamin C. Apply for 10 minutes and rinse.
  • Drunk Elephant C-Tango Eye Cream: Skin-brightening antioxidants, including vitamin C and peptides, combine with moisture-boosting phytosphingosine, ceramides, and hyaluronate to improve the appearance of tired under-eye skin.


Phytosphingosine is considered safe for all skin types. “Phytosphingosine- containing products can be used on a daily basis,” says Zeichner. “It is a soothing and hydrating ingredient that will not lead to skin irritation and can be combined with other products.”

If your skin becomes red, burns, or stings when you try any skin care product, you should wash it off right away, Zeichner adds.

The bottom line

Phytosphingosine is a type of fat that naturally occurs in skin cells. It’s often added to serums, creams, toners, and makeup to support your skin’s barrier function. With both antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, it’s helpful in treating acne and inflammatory skin conditions like eczema.

Although phytosphingosine is gentle and considered safe for all skin types, you should stop using any new skin care product that irritates your skin.

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