What Is Dimethyl Isosorbide?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 13 January 2020
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Dimethyl isosorbide (DMI) is an additive in cosmetics and medications that can increase absorption into the tissue. When used in diluted form, it poses low risks to consumers. Higher concentrations can cause irritation, which may lead to inflammation, redness, and a stinging sensation. Pure dimethyl isosorbide tends to be stable and safe to work with as long as chemists use reasonable precautions, like facial protection to limit facial exposure from flashbacks.

This compound is a clear, slightly oily liquid. It can act as a solvent and carrier to combine with ingredients and facilitate their absorption. When products with dimethyl isosorbide are applied to the skin, it helps them penetrate instead of just depositing on the surface. It can also be added to dental care products like compounds to strengthen teeth or reduce sensitivity, ensuring that they have time to penetrate the tooth instead of being absorbed by the gums or accidentally swallowed.

Absorption is necessary with skin care products to prevent them from rubbing off and making a mess. In addition, it ensures deep, even coverage and provides more lasting treatment. Dimethyl isosorbide can be added to moisturizers, sunscreen, and anti-aging creams designed to penetrate the skin. Products with this additive shouldn’t leave a slick or greasy feeling once they finish saturating the skin, although it can take several minutes for them to fully soak in. During this period, the skin may need to be left exposed to avoid staining garments.


Safety controls in production ensure that dimethyl isosorbide is sufficiently diluted, usually in a one to 10% solution, for it to be safe. Products can be tested to confirm the dilution level and make sure they will not cause irritation as a result of impurities or incorrect mixtures of ingredients. Consumers who notice irritation after applying products with dimethyl isosorbide may be more sensitive to the compound, or could have gotten a bad batch. In either case, the area can be washed with warm water and mild soap to remove the chemical.

Consumers concerned about the safety of cosmetics with chemical ingredients that look unfamiliar can consult a number of resources for more information. Dimethyl isosorbide, like other cosmetic additives, is listed in safety databases maintained by government agencies and nonprofit organizations interested in protecting consumers. It’s also possible to review material safety data sheets, which provide guidance on handling chemicals. Consumers should be aware that these often discuss pure forms, rather than the diluted versions used in cosmetics.


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