What exactly is hydroxypropyl methylcellulose HPMC?

The plant capsules used in our formulated products are made of hydroxypropylmethylcellulose (HPMC), also known as hydroxypropylmethylcellulose. Now, in the past, it was possible to list these contents on the label:

Other ingredients: plant capsules (plant fiber and water)

But then the FDA changed the labeling regulations to require vegetarian hats to be listed as either hydroxypropyl methylcellulose or hydroxypropyl methylcellulose

Therefore, it should be noted first that hydroxypropyl methylcellulose phthalate (HPMCP) is a substance different from direct HPMC (hydroxypropyl methylcellulose or hydroxypropyl methylcellulose). Yes, this word brings a world of difference.

According to the specification table of the vegetarian hat manufacturer:


HPMC is a plant product that is a purified form of cellulose extracted from wood pulp. According to Annex I of EU Regulation No. 1169/2011 on providing food information to consumers, HPMC is classified as “fiber” and defined as a polymer of carbon water compounds with three or more monomer units, which is neither digested nor absorbed in the human small intestine.

However, current laboratory testing methods for dietary fiber, such as AOAC 985.29, do not accurately detect HPMC as dietary fiber. However, HPMC is an edible carbohydrate polymer, a dietary fiber with beneficial physiological effects, which has been widely accepted by scientific evidence, and therefore can be voluntarily declared.

For those who have not learned too much chemistry

Cellulose is a chain composed of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, typically consisting of hundreds to thousands of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen chains together.

Hydroxyl – means that there is an oxygen and a hydrogen connected somewhere on the cellulose chain, rather than just a hydrogen.

Propyl – means there is a side chain at a certain position on the chain, where three carbon atoms are surrounded by hydrogen.

Methyl – Same as propyl, but not three carbons, but only one.

Put these four items together and you will get=hydroxypropyl methylcellulose

In order to carefully examine this information and ensure that no content has been ignored or embellished, I checked whether Dr. Joseph Mercola (a true doctor with a full set of full-time researchers) has written articles on hydroxypropyl methylcellulose. No. Then I checked his own supplements to see what his capsules were made of. Yes, they are listed under ‘Other Ingredients: Hydroxypropylmethylcellulose’.

So I think we can definitely say that the bottom line is that hydroxypropyl methylcellulose is a plant-based dietary fiber.

One component that often appears in our supplements is hydroxypropyl methylcellulose, which is typically used to make capsules.

Hydroxypropylmethylcellulose is usually derived from plant cellulose, which is a carbohydrate found in plant cell walls. This specific compound is commonly used in the manufacture of vegetarian capsules.

Hydroxypropylmethylcellulose usually appears in the form of hydroxypropylmethylcellulose or HPMC in the ingredient list, similar to “magical powder”.

Originating from plants, when mixed into the product, it can make the product thicker, ensure a smooth texture, and even make its effect more durable.

It is transparent and sticky when wet, making it a common material in many industries, especially because it is gentle for our bodies and is considered environmentally friendly.

How is hydroxypropyl methylcellulose produced?


To maintain simplicity and clarity, I will briefly introduce each of the following stages:

  • Raw material extraction: The main raw material of hydroxypropyl methylcellulose is plant cellulose, usually derived from wood pulp or cotton lint.
  • Alkali treatment: Treat cellulose with a strong alkaline solution (such as sodium hydroxide) to turn it into alkaline cellulose.
  • Methylation: In this step, alkaline cellulose is treated with methyl chloride to introduce methyl groups onto the cellulose molecules.
  • Hydroxypropylation: This is where hydroxypropyl is introduced. Methylcellulose reacts with epoxy propane, resulting in the connection of hydroxypropyl groups.
  • Purification: Then purify the obtained hydroxypropyl methylcellulose to remove any unreacted chemicals and other impurities. This usually includes washing, filtering, and drying.
  • Grinding and granulation: Finally, the dried hydroxypropyl methylcellulose is ground into fine powder and can be granulated to obtain the required particle size for its intended application.

The degree of methylation and hydroxypropylation can be controlled during the production process, which will affect the solubility and viscosity characteristics of the obtained hydroxypropylmethylcellulose.

This mechanism allows manufacturers to customize their attributes for specific applications to meet the needs of various products.

Can hydroxypropyl methylcellulose really have multiple uses?

Yes, it is a very versatile ingredient that plays a role in multiple industries, and there are several examples. In fact, one of them was mentioned at the beginning of the article.

Let’s talk about it by industry.

  • In the pharmaceutical industry.

Sustained release tablets: Hydroxypropylmethylcellulose is used in tablet formulations to control the release rate of active pharmaceutical ingredients and ensure prolonged drug release.

Eye drops: Used as artificial tears in ophthalmic preparations to alleviate dry eye symptoms.

Coating agent: Its film-forming properties enable it to be used as a coating agent for tablets and capsules, improving stability and appearance.

  • In the food industry.

Thickener and stabilizer: Hydroxypropylmethylcellulose is added to various foods, such as sauces, desserts, and baked goods, to achieve the desired consistency or texture.

Vegetarian substitute: It is a popular substitute for gelatin in vegetarian food or vegetarian food, because it provides a consistency similar to gel, and does not contain ingredients of animal origin.

Ceramic tile adhesive and plaster: Hydroxypropylmethylcellulose is used as a water retaining agent to ensure consistent drying and improve processability.

  • In cosmetics.

Thickener in lotion and face cream: It provides smooth texture and consistency for cosmetics.

It also has other specific applications.

  • Ink production: used as a thickener and stabilizer.
  • Agriculture: Used as a binder for granular seeds.
  • Textile industry: used for textile sizing to enhance yarn during the weaving process.

Other common questions

  • Can hydroxypropyl methylcellulose be safely consumed?

Yes, hydroxypropyl methylcellulose is generally considered safe to consume and has been approved for use in food by many regulatory agencies worldwide.

  • Is hydroxypropyl methylcellulose biodegradable?

Yes, as a cellulose derivative, hydroxypropylmethylcellulose is biodegradable, which makes it more environmentally friendly compared to some synthetic polymers.

  • Why use hydroxypropyl methylcellulose in eye drops?

Hydroxypropylmethylcellulose can mimic the characteristics of natural tears, providing lubrication and relief for dry and astringent eyes. Its viscous properties help it stay on the surface of the eyes longer than water, providing a long-lasting relief effect.