What are polysaccharides? These are “polymeric carbohydrate structures formed of repeating units joined together by glycosidic bonds” (from Wikipedia) which are called saccharides. These are combinations of these saccharides that make up much bigger molecules. In general, we use ingredients with polysaccharides as healing, soothing, and skin protecting qualities as they reduce irritation and can create a barrier between our skin and the outside world.
We can find quite basic ones like two monosaccharides like glucose and fructose joined together to make sucrose or D-galactose and D-glucose joined together to make lactose.
We can find more complicated ones like starch, glycogen, cellulose, xanthan gum, guar gum, hyaluronic acid, and so on. We find a lot of polysaccharides in bath and body ingredients, so it’s useful to know what they do.
Some polysaccharides are considered mucilagenous, meaning they contain mucilage. Mallow, liquorice, and aloe vera all contain mucilage and this gooey stuff can create a film on our skin to protect us while soothing and reducing inflammation.
Some polysaccharides are starches – like tapicoa, corn, and arrowroot powders, to name a few. In these cases, the polysaccharides offer the skin protecting, soothing, and healing qualities as well as adding thickness (and often increasing that dry feeling) to the products.
We also find polysaccharides like xanthan gum, guar gum, cationic guar gum, and cationic hydroxyethylcellulose (HEC) that will thicken our products and offer that light film forming. These tend to be quite complicated molecules that can create a film on your skin and make things like lotions, shampoos, conditioners, and other water based products thicker.
And some are humectants, like hyaluronic acid.