What Is Xanthan Gum And What Is It Doing In Your Hair Products

When it comes to hair care products, there's a lot to take into consideration. There are brands to know, including what they believe in as a company, what kind of products they make, and what specialities they focus on. There are countless ingredients to research so that you know what you're putting in your hair and on your scalp. In fact, there are even certain ingredients you can look out for if you want certain results, such as extra smooth hair. There are also specialty products, such as hypoallergenic ones. It's a lot to take in, but if you take it one ingredient or a product at a time, it becomes a lot less overwhelming.

One product that's in most hair products is xanthan gum, but unlike how it sounds, it's not a kind of chewing gum, although you've probably heard of it because of the food world. According to Healthline, xanthan gum is used as a stabilizer and/or thickener in a lot of foods, and it's possible that it even lowers cholesterol. But what exactly is it? As it turns out, it's created by fermenting sugar with a specific bacteria (Xanthomonas campestris). "When sugar is fermented, it creates a broth or goo-like substance, which is made solid by adding an alcohol. It is then dried and turned into a powder," Healthline explained. "When xanthan gum powder is added to a liquid, it quickly disperses and creates a viscous and stable solution." These properties are why it's becoming increasingly popular for it to be used in gluten-free food products. But how does the product relate to hair care? 

Xanthan gum is the superhero we never knew was saving our scalps

Xanthan gum is a powerful tool in food production, especially as more people move toward gluten-free diets, but its use in hair products may still seem perplexing. As it turns out, it does something similar in hair products that it does in food. According to Byrdie, xanthan gum acts as an emulsifier in hair products. It's a stabilizing agent and thickener just as it operates in food, yet it also emulsifies, meaning that it holds all of the product's ingredients together in a cohesive liquid while simultaneously ensuring that all of a product's active ingredients work in tandem. "I think of it as the egg inside cakes that holds it together after it is baked," Nava Greenfield, MD, explained.

Xanthan gum isn't known to have any negative side effects, per Byrdie, meaning that it can be used by anyone as long as they don't have an allergy to it. Xanthan gum is often derived from corn, soy, dairy, and wheat, so be wary if you have any of these allergies. Similarly, it's not known to negatively interact with any other hair product ingredients, which is why it's in so many products.

In addition to xanthan gum's molecular aid in hair products, it's suspected to be able to lock oils into hair, so people with a dry scalp and hair may be able to benefit from its properties.