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Is there a “right” beta-glucan for your skin?

What is a beta-glucan? β-Glucans are large molecules made out of small sugars like glucose bound to each other in a particular way called a beta glycosidic bond. These basic characteristics leave a lot of variation in size, branching, and sugar composition, leading to great variation in physical properties like solubility, capacity to form gels and films, viscosity, and the physiological effects on animals, including humans.

Figure: beta 1,4 glycosidic linkage in cellulose (by NEUROtiker, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons).

The orientation of a linkage (as alpha or beta) changes the properties of the resulting oligo o polysaccharide. Starch, for example, has glucose monomers linked to each other in alpha linkages. Cellulose (think paper or cotton) has them linked in beta. Humans can digest starch but can’t digest cellulose. Cellulose is a β-glucan, but it’s in a separate class of its own: it is insoluble and behaves in a very different way as other cereal or yeast β-glucans.

The immunomodulation effect of β-glucans may be due to their interactions with macrophage receptors, activating these cells as basic effectors in host defense against bacteria, viruses, parasites, and tumor cells.  β-glucans have shown varying activity against sarcomas, mammary cancer, some chemically induced cancers, colon cancer, and some leukemia.

Examples of useful beta-glucans

Aloe Vera – The gel obtained from the Aloe barbadensis plant improves skin hydration, has anti-inflammatory properties, and aids the healing of cuts, grazes, burns, and insect bites. The polysaccharides in this extract include acetylated mannans.

Apple pectin – A complex polysaccharide that contains rhamnose. Fibroblasts contain receptors for rhamnose (more about this later), and binding of rhamnose to the receptor leads to increased synthesis of collagen and strengthened epidermal-dermal junction. Apple pectin helps thicken skin thinned by aging.

Larch arabinogalactans – In native North American Indian tribes, larch was used as a poultice on sores, ulcers, burns and to alleviate itching. When biochemists looked into larch, they found that arabinogalactans stimulate dermal fibroblast activity and proliferation, promote keratinocyte differentiation and the production of keratinocyte growth factor.  Note: Dr.  Andrew Weil, a proponent of integrative medicine (which incorporates scientifically proven botanicals into the daily practice of medicine) uses this active in his Origins line.

Yeast beta-glucan – The cell wall of yeast is very complex, with a structure that includes beta(1–> 3)-glucan, beta(1–> 6)-glucan, chitin, and mannoprotein.  When we come in contact with these special glycans, our immune system is activated so that, when a pathogen is encountered, we are better able to deal with it and stop an infection. Apparently, this response may also prepare us to stop our own “gone bad” cells, those that have lost the capacity to control cell division and have become cancer cells. A great advantage to allergy sufferers: yeast beta-glucan (and that of other fungi) seems to decrease the tendency to allergic responses and inflammation, and as an added bonus it tightens your skin.  A recently discovered lectin is dectin-1, a small cell surface protein that recognizes beta 1,3 and beta1,6-glucans and is a source of innate immunity, in other words it does not require previous exposure to pathogen.

Fucoidans are sulfated polysaccharides that when applied to the skin increase the density of collagen bundles, decrease activity of proteases (enzymes that break down dermal proteins), increase scavenging of free radicals, and increase cell proliferation. In addition to helping with healing and collagen synthesis, fucoidan inhibits the replication of many viruses, including herpes, human cytomegalovirus, and HIV-1.
Prickly pear (Opuntia fruit) extract – This beautiful fruit contains methylated rhamnogalacturonans (L-arabinose and D-xylose are also represented), giving this extract medicinal powers in treatment of burns, edema, and asthma.

Tremella fuciformis

Tremella fuciformis extract is used in women’s beauty products from China, Korea, and Japan.  The main component of this extract is polysaccharides that contain mannose and uronic acid.  The polysaccharide will prevent oxidative damage by UVA and photoaging and prevent collagen breakdown by proteases. Snow mushroom polysaccharides form gels that will retain moisture when applied to the skin;  they also have anti-inflammatory activity and will modulate the immune response.


Beta-glucan (oat) is an excellent anti-inflammatory ingredient for reducing redness, itching, and irritation. Add Beta Glucan Powder to your favorite base cream, serum, cleanser or toner.

We plan to add more beta-glucans at Skin Actives as their benefits become apparent.

Some Skin Actives products with beta-glucans

Sea Kelp coral

Zit Ender

Gentle cream cleanser

Ultra calming cream

Clarifying cream

UV Repair cream

DIY Tremella gel

…and many more. We love beta-glucans!

Quick Do It Yourself

Add some Glycan 7 booster to a lotion you like and mix. Or, add some powder to Sea Kelp coral.  Look at our Zit Ender for more ideas of what to add to your magical concoction!


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Du, B., Bian, Z., & Xu, B. (2013). Skin Health Promotion Effects of Natural Beta-Glucan Derived from Cereals and Microorganisms: A Review. Phytotherapy Research, 28: 159–166. doi:10.1002/ptr.4963 

Fusté, N. P., Guasch, M., Guillen, P., Anerillas, C., Cemeli, T., Pedraza, N., … Garí, E. (2019). Barley β-glucan accelerates wound healing by favoring migration versus proliferation of human dermal fibroblasts. Carbohydrate Polymers, 210, 389–398. doi: 10.1016/j.carbpol.2019.01.090

Han CK, Chiang HC, Lin CY, Tang CH, Lee H, Huang DD, Zeng YR, Chuang TN and Huang YL (2015) Comparison of immunomodulatory and anticancer activities in different strains of Tremella fuciformis berk. Am J Chin Med. 43:1637–1655.

Howling, G. I., Dettmar, P. W., Goddard, P. A., Hampson, F. C., Dornish, M., & Wood, E. J. (2001). The effect of chitin and chitosan on the proliferation of human skin fibroblasts and keratinocytes in vitro. Biomaterials, 22: 2959–2966. doi:10.1016/s0142-9612(01)00042-4 

Majtan, J., & Jesenak, M. (2018). β-Glucans: Multi-Functional Modulator of Wound Healing. Molecules, 23: 806. doi:10.3390/molecules23040806 Ozanne, H., Toumi, H., Roubinet, B., Landemarre, L., Lespessailles, E., Daniellou, R., & Cesaro, A. (2020). Laminarin Effects, a β-(1,3)-Glucan, on Skin Cell Inflammation and Oxidation. Cosmetics, 7:66. doi:10.3390/cosmetics7030066 

Sato, H., Kobayashi, Y., Hattori, A., Suzuli, T., Shigekawa, M., & Jippo, T. (2012).  Inhibitory Effects of Water-Soluble Low-Molecular-Weight β-(1,3-1,6)D-Glucan Isolated from Aureobasidium pullulans 1A1 Strain Black Yeast on Mast Cell Degranulation and Passive Cutaneous Anaphylaxis. Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry, 76: 84–88. doi:10.1271/bbb.110536 

Shen, T., Duan, C., Chen, B., Li, M., Ruan, Y., Xu, D., … Wang, C. (2017). Tremella fuciformis polysaccharide suppresses hydrogen peroxide-triggered injury of human skin fibroblasts via upregulation of SIRT1. Molecular Medicine Reports, 16: 1340–1346. doi:10.3892/mmr.2017.6754

Wen, L., Qing Gao, Chung-wah Ma, Yazhong Ge, Lijun You, Rui Hai Liu, Xiong Fu, Dong Liu. (2016) Effect of polysaccharides from Tremella fuciformis on UV-induced photoaging,
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Willment, J., Marshall, A. ?J., Reid, D., Williams, D., Wong, S. ?C., Gordon, S., & Brown, G. (2005). The human β-glucan receptor is widely expressed and functionally equivalent to murine Dectin-1 on primary cells. European Journal of Immunology, 35: 1539–1547. doi:10.1002/eji.200425725 


Claims on this page have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, cure, treat, or prevent any disease.