What Is Xylitol and Is It Safe?

By Liz Thompson in Natural Products

When you're considering a new product, you might flip it over to read the label listing what ingredients it's made of. However, some names and terms can make it difficult to fully understand what each ingredient is and where it comes from. Take xylitol, for instance. You might be familiar with this ingredient as a sweetener. But did you know it shows up in many personal care products, too?

So, what is xylitol, where does it come from, and—most importantly—is it safe to use in personal care products?

What Is Xylitol and Where Does It Come From?

You may commonly see xylitol used as a sugar substitute in a variety of food items, such as gum, mints, and candy. This ingredient is also used in a wide range of personal care products.

Xylitol is a naturally occurring sugar alcohol, or polyol. It's found in plants and is even produced in the human body by normal metabolism. The International Food Information Council Foundation states that xylitol comes from some fruits and vegetables, as well as birch bark and corn husks. Because birch bark is a common source of the ingredient, the name comes from the word "xylose," or "wood sugar."

To produce xylitol, the xylose is extracted from the woody pulp of the aforementioned plants and converted into xylitol through catalytic hydrogenation. While some processing is typically involved in the extraction, the end product is still the same as that which occurs naturally in plants. The final xylitol is a carbohydrate that looks and tastes similar to table sugar, but it contains one-third fewer calories—about 2.4 calories per gram, according to the Calorie Control Council.

Sugar on table

Benefits of Xylitol in Personal Care Products

This natural sweetener has benefits that go beyond simply making a product taste sweet. It's thought that xylitol helps to inhibit the growth of cavity-causing bacteria, as cited in paper published in the journal Clinical, Cosmetic, and Investigational Dentistry.

More than thirty-five countries, including the United States, have approved xylitol use in oral care products. Xylitol can add a pleasing, slightly sweet flavor to oral care products, such as mouthwash and toothpaste. It also releases a cooling sensation for a refreshing sensation. Because it comes from naturally occurring and sustainable sources, it's often an ideal ingredient for natural oral care product creators.

An article in the International Journal of Applied Pharmaceutical and Biological Research notes that xylitol also has prebiotic properties, as it helps to support a healthier microbiome. Natural deodorants containing xylitol can help you leverage these prebiotic benefits. Not all bacteria are bad, and xylitol promotes the growth of good bacteria to help reduce odor in the underarm area.

What Is Xylitol, Where Does It Come From, and How Is It Made?

Safety of Xylitol

Even though it's obtained from natural sources, you may be wondering . . . is xylitol safe? Rest assured that the Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of xylitol as a non-nutritive sweetener for direct addition to foods, and xylitol has a long history of use, dating back to the 1960s.

The Environmental Working Group scores xylitol as a "1" in its ingredient safety database—the lowest hazard ranking. The site also lists a wide range of personal care products that contain the ingredient, including toothpaste, shampoo, facial moisturizer, and sunscreen.

Xylitol is a popular ingredient for use in natural personal care products, and its popularity is only growing. A report by Grand View Research predicts that xylitol usage in the personal care and cosmetics market is expected to reach $48.8 million by 2025 due to increasing consumer awareness of the benefits of using the naturally derived ingredient.

Adding xylitol to your personal care regimen can potentially provide several advantages—whether it's in natural toothpaste or deodorant.

Inspired to discover new personal care products made with naturally derived ingredients? Follow the Naturally Good Products board by @tomsofmaine on Pinterest!

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Why It's Good

Xylitol is a naturally derived ingredients that boasts many perks, from cavity prevention to prebiotic properties. Though it may be known as a substitute sweetener, xylitol can offer these benefits when incorporated in personal care products.