Microencapsulation in Skincare, The Complete Guide

Microencapsulated Skincare Ingredients

We independently select and review the products we recommend. We may earn a small commission on purchases made through our affiliate links below. Learn more about how we review products and our sources of information.

If you’ve been paying attention, you must have noticed the increasing number of skincare products using the “microencapsulation” or “encapsulated delivery system” technologies. If you think that this has nothing to do with you or your choices of skincare products, you might be wrong. Because microencapsulated skincare ingredients translate to highly concentrated active ingredients (think retinol and antioxidants) at your service and in their most stable and efficient form.

It also means better, faster, and long-lasting results, plus, more bang for your buck! Even though retinol is the most common microencapsulated ingredient, there’s actually more!

So, pay attention because nanoparticles are taking over your serums and creams! Before we get into the science(ish) of it all, here’s a simple illustration of how microencapsulation works.

Imagine getting Cinderella ready for the ball. You doll her up; the dress, the makeup, the hair, the nails -the whole 9 yards! You also have to make sure the pouring rain doesn’t ruin her glam. So you coat her and put an umbrella over her head for when she gets off the chariot. Because she has to look amazing in the right place at the right time. Otherwise, it’ll all be for nothing!

Encapsulation works in a very similar way. It keeps the active ingredients (Cinderella, if that’s not clear) safe until they reach where it matters without losing efficiency on the way. Keep reading to find out more.

What is Microencapsulation in Skincare?

Microencapsulation or encapsulation is a delivery system used in skincare where the active ingredient molecules are encapsulated by other molecules (1). The main purpose of microencapsulation is to increase the penetration, stability, and efficiency of active ingredients by coating them with a protective shell.

This way, your active ingredients stay potent and stable until they reach the exact layer of the skin where they need to. The encapsulation can be done by several different “nanocarriers” like liposomes or nanospheres (2). It varies from brand to brand, and product to product.

Microencapsulation is not physical encapsulation. Encapsulation happens at a microscopic level; invisible to your eye. It’s not like skincare ampoules or capsules. Even though the idea is similar, the working mechanism is different in those products. For visible encapsulation, check out these skincare capsules for single-dose beauty!

How Does Microencapsulation Work in Skincare?

Microencapsulation works by slowly releasing the active ingredients into the skin in a controlled manner (3). That’s why the term ‘microencapsulation’ is sometimes used interchangeably with the term ‘time-release’ or ‘controlled release’.

The release of microencapsulated active ingredients also varies. So then, what triggers them? What makes them “know” when to or where to release?

Some ingredients activate when you apply them to the skin. For example, when you’re massaging your serum into your skin, those tiny capsules are triggered and activated by heat.

That’s when the coating material (the capsule) dissolves and lets the active ingredient into the skin. Some activate when they reach the water barriers of the skin whereas others require mechanical action and release when they’re physically rubbed into the skin.

What Are Some Microencapsulated Ingredients?

In general, highly potent but potentially irritating skincare actives are the most common microencapsulated ingredients in cosmetic products. And the most common of them are vitamin C and retinol.

Microencapsulated Vitamin C

Vitamin C is an antioxidant powerhouse and a potent anti-ager. But it’s highly unstable. And it oxidizes very quickly when exposed to air. It’s also water-soluble, meaning that when applied to the skin, it won’t reach past water barriers.

Plus, the acidity of it will irritate your skin instantly. When these active ingredients are in a micro-capsule, they can keep their potency for longer periods of time without scaring the skin off to cause a reaction.

Microencapsulated Retinol

Most retinol serums and creams are disappointing for dry and sensitive skin types because they cause redness, flakiness, and sensitivity.

The controlled release of microencapsulated retinol is effective in fighting the signs of aging without the annoying side effects.

Unlike regular retinol, microencapsulated retinol absorbs into the skin slowly and gradually, making the product way gentler on the skin.

What Are The Benefits of Microencapsulation in Skincare?

Below are the benefits of microencapsulation in skincare.

1. It enhances stability.

Microencapsulation ensures that the active ingredients in your skincare products are stable (4). You want the last drop of your anti-aging serum to be just as effective as the first drop.

This requires active ingredients like antioxidants to be stable enough to work, and stay so until they expire. But keeping the stability of these ingredients is difficult.

Microencapsulated skincare ingredients stay safe in the capsules until you apply them to the skin. They’re also not affected by UV exposure or oxidation.

2. It makes active ingredients more targeted.

Encapsulation ensures the safety of the ingredients, activating them only when and where it’s appropriate. The coating of the ingredients melts away on the surface of the skin, making way for the actives to travel to the next level without losing potency.

When they reach the exact skin level, you get the purest and the most concentrated form of the ingredient you want your skin to benefit from.

3. It makes active ingredients tolerable for the skin.

Some of the ingredients we have in our skincare products have the potential to cause irritation when applied directly to the skin.

They cause redness and inflammation on the surface level, making it impossible to benefit from them. This is an issue, especially for sensitive skin types.

By encapsulating these ingredients with other ingredients, the active ingredients can pass the border patrol safely without causing sensitivity or irritation.

And because the ingredients are released in a slow and controlled manner, they become more tolerable for the skin. I have rosacea. And encapsulated retinol is my go-to workaround.

4. The effects last longer.

The capsules protecting the active ingredients work in a “sustained-release” manner. The ingredients are activated at a slower rate for longer periods of time.

So, instead of diffusing the essence of the product all at once, the capsules release it gradually, making it work gentler and longer.

5. It enhances skin penetration.

Most of the skincare products we use on a daily basis face a lot of challenges until they reach a certain skin layer and work well enough to make a visible change in our skin.

And when anti-aging is at stake, you want your products to work hard enough to stimulate collagen growth, and that’s not an easy task.

Microencapsulation maximizes the penetration of ingredients that are normally too big to be absorbed by the skin (5). As a result, you’re more likely to see results from those products.

The Best Encapsulated Products

So by now, you know how microencapsulation works in skincare. Not surprisingly, the most common ingredient used in microencapsulated products is retinol.

But there are other ingredients too. Plus, microencapsulated ingredients come in serums, creams, even face masks, and more!

Whether you’re looking for encapsulated retinol or encapsulated antioxidants, find below the best microencapsulated skincare products.

1. Eve Lom Time Retreat Radiance Essence

Eve Lom Time Retreat Radiance Essence

This one by Eve Lom is a targeted anti-aging essence to stimulate skin renewal. The star of the show is retinol in microcapsules made out of skin-friendly fats called liposomes.

The liposomes carry retinol into the deeper layers of the skin where it’s most effective. While you apply your essence, completely unaware of the microscopic capsules, the skin-rejuvenating retinol promotes collagen growth for firmer and youthful skin.

Besides, the face essence packs neuropeptides for instantly smoother skin, and antioxidant-rich botanicals to increase radiance and hydration.

Product: Essence
Key Ingredients: Encapsulated retinol, niacinamide, amino acids
Key Benefits: Increases skin turnover, brightens
Size: 5 oz/150 ml
Good To Know: Vegan

2. Glow Recipe Avocado Melt Retinol Eye Cream

Glow Recipe Avocado Melt Retinol Eye Cream

This is an eye cream formulated with time-release retinol. We all know the importance of using gentle ingredients around your eyes. We also know that retinol is the way to go to get rid of wrinkles, fine lines, and pigmentation around your eyes.

But the thin skin is way less tolerant to retinol compared to the skin on your cheeks. That’s why it’s important to use a gentle retinol eye cream like this one. The cream ensures a slow and long-lasting release with microencapsulated retinol to avoid irritation.

Plus, it has antioxidant-rich avocado oil to reverse free radical damage on the skin. This super-nourishing eye treatment is the way to go for thorough and effective eye rejuvenation without sensitivity.

Product: Eye cream
Key Ingredients: Encapsulated retinol, niacinamide, coffee extract
Key Benefits: Softens wrinkles and discolorations around the eyes
Size: 0.5 oz/15 ml
Good To Know: Vegan, cruelty-free

3. Murad Clarifying Cleanser

Murad Clarifying Cleanser - Microencapsulated Skincare Ingredients

As I said, microencapsulation isn’t exclusive to retinol. This is a face wash for oily and acne-prone skin to treat excess oil and acne-causing bacteria. Just like in any other product, you want your cleanser to be concentrated too.

This facewash contains microencapsulated salicylic acid. This oil-soluble acid is the acid for acne. The time-released acid stays in the pores working its magic even after you wash it off.

The gentle exfoliation treats congestion, and excess oil. In doing so, it unclogs and improves the look of pores. Additional benefits include anti-inflammatory green tea extract for reducing redness.

Product: Face cleanser
Key Ingredients: 1.5% encapsulated salicylic acid, amino acids
Key Benefits: Clears up pores, calms acne
Size: 6.75 oz/200 ml
Good To Know: Cruelty-free

4. Shani Darden Skin Care Retinol Reform

Shani Darden Skin Care Retinol Reform

This one is an effective microencapsulated retinol serum. With a time-release delivery, you get to enjoy retinol’s anti-aging benefits without dealing with side effects.

Since day 1, the whole selling point of this serum has been “making retinol tolerable for all”. And it’s not an empty promise.

Plus, the retinol serum has lactic acid to give you gentle exfoliation with added hydration benefits. This is great because it helps keep your skin flake-free.

Product: Face serum
Key Ingredients: Encapsulated retinol, lactic acid, niacinamide
Key Benefits: Stimulates skin turnover, exfoliates, brightens
Size: 1 oz/30 ml
Good To Know: Vegan, cruelty-free

5. SkinMedica Vitamin C + E Complex

SkinMedica Vitamin C + E Complex - Microencapsulated Skincare Ingredients

Not surprisingly, vitamin C also comes in microencapsulation. It’s one of the most effective antioxidants. But it’s equally unstable. And even though all skin types can benefit from it, not all skin types can tolerate it.

That’s why this antioxidant serum offers microencapsulated vitamin C coupled with vitamin E. The slow release of the antioxidants makes the formula super gentle on the skin.

It gives you day-long protection against the damaging effects of free radicals. Because of microencapsulation, you don’t need to worry about irritation associated with pure ascorbic acid.

Product: Face serum
Key Ingredients: Encapsulated vitamins C and E
Key Benefits: Neutralizes free radicals, brightens
Size: 1 oz/29.6 ml
Good To Know: Fragrance-free

6. Murad Retinol Youth Renewal Serum

Murad Retinol Youth Renewal Serum

This is one of the most effective anti-aging serums out there. And it’s actually very gentle on the skin compared to regular retinol serums. Because it utilizes microencapsulation and delivers the anti-agers in a hydrating and soothing base.

The serum also has the gentle retinol alternative, Granactive Retinoid, to maximize your results without irritation. It smooths out the skin and fights signs of aging like wrinkles, dark spots, dullness, and dehydration.

Product: Night serum
Key Ingredients: Encapsulated retinol, Granactive retinoid, ceramides
Key Benefits: Improves skin texture and tone, softens wrinkles
Size: 1 oz/30 ml
Good To Know: Vegan, cruelty-free

7. Mary Kay TimeWise Repair Volu-Fill Deep Wrinkle Filler

Mary Kay TimeWise Repair Volu-Fill Deep Wrinkle Filler

As we’ve established, microencapsulation is incredibly helpful in reducing irritation from skincare. But sometimes, it’s not about irritation but about ensuring the availability of the active ingredient in the skin for a longer period of time. Now, you’d think that encapsulating an ingredient like hyaluronic acid is frivolous.

Well, it actually makes sense when you’re talking about an instant wrinkle filler like this one! Wrinkle fillers rely on humectants like hyaluronic acid to instantly plump the skin, and fill in wrinkles to reduce their appearance.

And microencapsulating hyaluronic acid makes sure the effects last longer. Plus, the wrinkle-removing treatment also packs time-release retinol. So you have both long-term and short-term benefits.

Product: Instant wrinkle filler
Key Ingredients: Encapsulated hyaluronic acid, retinol
Key Benefits: Fills in wrinkles, plumps fine lines
Size: 0.5 oz

8. CeraVe Skin Renewing Day Cream SPF 30

CeraVe Skin Renewing Day Cream SPF 30 - Microencapsulated Skincare Ingredients

If you’re looking for an affordable product to try microencapsulated ingredients, this is the perfect one. This is a daily anti-aging moisturizer with SPF and it’s formulated with encapsulated retinol. It multi-tasks big time!

It allows you to use retinol during the day without causing irritation. And it brings your moisturizer together with SPF, which is important when you’re using retinol.

And lastly, it’s a potent moisturizer itself because it’s packed with hyaluronic acid, squalane, and ceramides. But if you prefer serums, try CeraVe Skin Renewing Retinol Serum.

Product: Daily moisturizer
Key Ingredients: Encapsulated retinol, SPF, ceramides
Key Benefits: Promotes collagen production while protecting skin
Size: 1.76 oz
Good To Know: Fragrance-free

9. Medik8 Sleep Glycolic Time Release AHA Overnight At-Home Peel

Medik8 Sleep Glycolic Time Release AHA Overnight At-Home Peel - Microencapsulated Skincare Ingredients

Another set of difficult skincare ingredients is hydroxy acids. Exfoliants like glycolic acid can sometimes irritate your skin, making it difficult to get rid of those dead skin cells.

Luckily, we have encapsulated acids too. This peel is formulated with microencapsulated glycolic acid in a concentration of 10%, which is otherwise intimidating for most people with sensitive skin.

This way, you minimize potential irritation to a great extent. Instead of overwhelming your skin, the slow-release formula helps your skin adjust to glycolic acid to achieve gentle exfoliation.

Product: Exfoliating treatment
Key Ingredients: Encapsulated glycolic acid
Key Benefits: Boosts skin turnover to resurface smoother, softer skin
Size: 1 oz/30 ml

So this is how microencapsulation works, its benefits for your skin, and some amazing products specially formulated with microencapsulated ingredients.

Science doesn’t lie. This method works. That’s why microencapsulation has become the mainstream method for formulating gentle retinol products. So make sure you give them a try.


  1. Kaul, S., Gulati, N., Verma, D., Mukherjee, S., & Nagaich, U. (2018). Role of Nanotechnology in Cosmeceuticals: A Review of Recent Advances. Journal of pharmaceutics2018, 3420204. https://doi.org/10.1155/2018/3420204
  2. Ganesan, P., & Choi, D. K. (2016). Current application of phytocompound-based nanocosmeceuticals for beauty and skin therapy. International journal of nanomedicine11, 1987–2007. https://doi.org/10.2147/IJN.S104701
  3. Francisca Casanova & Lúcia Santos (2016) Encapsulation of cosmetic active ingredients for topical application – a review, Journal of Microencapsulation, 33:1, 1-17, DOI: 10.3109/02652048.2015.1115900
  4. Zhou H, Luo D, Chen D, Tan X, Bai X, Liu Z, Yang X, Liu W. Current Advances of Nanocarrier Technology-Based Active Cosmetic Ingredients for Beauty Applications. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2021;14:867-887 https://doi.org/10.2147/CCID.S313429
  5. Kaul, S., Gulati, N., Verma, D., Mukherjee, S., & Nagaich, U. (2018). Role of Nanotechnology in Cosmeceuticals: A Review of Recent Advances. Journal of pharmaceutics2018, 3420204. https://doi.org/10.1155/2018/3420204

Read Next: The Best Anti-Aging Skincare Ingredients

About The Author

Scroll to Top