What is it?

“Lecithin (from the Greek lekithos, “egg yolk”) is a generic term to designate any group of yellow-brownish fatty substances occurring in animal and plant tissues, which are amphiphilic – they attract both water and fatty substances (and so are both hydrophilic and lipophilic), and are used for smoothing food textures, dissolving powders (emulsifying), homogenizing liquid mixtures, and repelling sticking materials.” Wikipedia

What are the effects?

This substance belongs to the groups:

Lecithin may enhance skin absorption, which should be considered with caution when using leave-on products possibly containing other harmful ingredients. Other ingredients can easier penetrate and be absorbed through the skin. It is generally recommended to use this substance in rinse-off products, and at maximum 15 % in leave on products.

The other concern of this substance is that it may be contaminated by nitrosamines. Lecithin should be avoided in cosmetic products where N-nitroso compounds may be formed. It has been reported that lecithin metabolize to choline, and the choline can in turn be dealkylated to dimethylamine. It is dimethylamine that can form nitrosamines if it’s in the presence of nitrate.

Lecithin may be derived from animals. It is a substance that can be found in all living organisms, for example in blood, nerve tissue, milk, and eggs of animals. But it can also be vegan; sourced from soybeans and corn, or be synthetically made, according to the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

And as with many substances – no matter how this ingredient is sourced, vegan or non-vegan, it is often named the same. To know if the product is free from animal biological parts, look for “vegetarian” or “vegan” stamps on the product or in the product description. In some cases you may even have to ask the manufacturer to know how the ingredient is sourced.


  • Nitrosamines – linked to cancer, endocrine disruption, organ system toxicity, developmental toxicity and damaged fertility.

How is it used?

This substance can be derived plants or from animals (egg yolk) but it can also be synthetically manufactured. Most commonly you will find it as a food additive or in food preparations, it can for example be found in non stick cooking spray. But it is also used in pharmaceuticals and in all kinds of cosmetics*, including eye creams, lipsticks, liquid powders, hand creams, lotions, soaps and shampoos.

It is also common to find hydrogenated lecithin in products, where hydrogen is added to the substance to make it more stable against heat.

We use the European Commissions definition of Cosmetics:
“Cosmetics range from everyday hygiene products such as soap, shampoo, deodorant, and toothpaste to luxury beauty items including perfumes and makeup”.

Did you find this ingredient in a product?

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