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Ingredient Watch List: Butylene Glycol, Another Questionable Petroleum Product

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

I published a post a couple weeks ago about propylene glycol, a petroleum product used in a lot of cosmetic formulations that tends to dry out your skin. On the whole, I’m usually cautious about any of the “glycols” in skin care, so I wanted to tell my readers about another one that’s often talked about along with propylene glycol—butylene glycol. Unfortunately, this is another ingredient typically derived from petroleum, which gives it the “ew” factor, and makes it something I don’t really want to use on my skin. It is, however, generally considered safe.

What is Butylene Glycol?

Butylene glycol is a chemical compound (1,3-butanediol)—a colorless organic alcohol used in the following ways:

  1. as a solvent (helps other products dissolve in water),
  2. as a viscosity-decreasing agent (to thin creams and gels so they’re easier to use),
  3. and as a conditioning agent.

You can find it listed on the product labels of hair care products, moisturizers, foundations, sunscreens, eye creams, mascaras, and more. It’s also used as a food additive to add flavoring—it has a sweet flavor and a bitter aftertaste—and in the manufacture of polyester plasticizers, structural material for boats, custom moldings, and sheets and boards for construction.

When placed on the skin or ingested, butylene glycol is absorbed and broken down into “gamma-hydroxybutryic acid,” a naturally occurring compound found in humans. The Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR), the FDA, and the World Health Organization have all found butylene glycol to be safe.

Does Butylene Glycol Cause Harm to Skin?

Manufacturers of skin care products use butylene glycol because it works as a humectant. It has the ability to take moisture from the air and retain it, keeping the product from drying out and making the formulation more resistant to high humidity. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), about 10 percent of the total production of the chemical goes into personal care products.

In sensitive individuals, butylene glycol may be irritating to the skin, eyes, and or nasal passages, but it is the least potentially irritating of all the glycols. In addition, since this ingredient is in so many of the products we apply on our skin every day, the concern is that over time, our exposure may be adding up to something that could be potentially harmful to the health of the skin and body. So far, however, scientific studies have shown no harmful effects from the ingredient at current levels and exposures. In fact, this glycol has not been linked to any organ-specific toxicity and is not considered to be carcinogenic, unlike ethylene glycol.

My Recommendation

As someone who wants to apply only natural, nourishing ingredients to my skin, I would recommend that you avoid butylene glycol, mainly because it is derived from petroleum, and doesn’t really add to the health of your skin. (Kind of like eating a Twinkie—may not hurt you, but certainly isn’t going to help you.)

Watch for this ingredient on labels, and for truly healthy and vibrant skin, choose products that are packed with plant-based moisturizers, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. I invite you to try my Anti-Aging Serum—completely free of butylene glycol, and full of goodies like aloe vera, gingko and rosemary leaves, comfrey root, fennel seed, plantain leaves, and more!

Do you avoid butylene glycol? Do you think your skin is healthier for it?

Sources:
Celanese Limited, “1,3-Butanedial, USEPA HPV Challenge Program Submission,” July 14, 2003, Toxicology and Regulatory Affairs, http://www.epa.gov/hpv/pubs/summaries/13butane/c14133rt.pdf.
Photo courtesy BFactoryUK via Flickr.com.

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12 Responses to “Ingredient Watch List: Butylene Glycol, Another Questionable Petroleum Product”

  • Hello, I run an English Language School In Kawasaki City Japan. Recently I have started to buy products from a cosmetics company in Japan (http://www.sinary.com) that purports to use 100% non BG (Butylene Glycol) products. I’m a man and have started to use Sinary’s toothpaste, shampoo, body wash, and face wash. They also have a range of aroma therapy products.
    After attending their explanation seminars I checked our products we always use at home and found a big part of them was BG, especially my wife’s very expensive cosmetics.
    I have thus researched yours and other web sites, some strongly against BG use, some say its good, and some like yours say perhaps its ok but to be safe don’t use it.
    Sinary also said be careful of the long term use of BG, and as you, say the residual buildup may be very scary.
    I don’t have a specific question for you but I’m trying to find a healthy way for my family (I have 2 young children) so any more light you could shed on this BG it would be great?
    Thanks
    Duncan Edmond

  • Carol Presel says:

    There are plenty of creams and lotions at your local health food store that do not use any harmfull ingredients in their products. That includes shampoos, conditioners etc. Their prices are comparable to the higher end products out there now. They might even be less expensive. Just because something costs more, doesn’t mean it works better.

    Good luck,

    Carol Presel

  • Willbe says:

    petroleum derived or not is not a very good way to consider ingredients. you can label it ‘natural’ because it comes from the ground, rather than being synthetically made. if you eliminate both you may as well give up on ingredients. what is more important is how much processing they have done on the petroleum derived products, i.e. level of purity. plenty of other ingredients will be first petroleum derived, then purified, and then further functionalized and given a different name. you can’t get away from it.

  • Patrick says:

    While it can rarely cause skin sensitivity (it is, after all, a form of alcohol), butylene glycol isn’t only derived from petroleum. It is a by-product of fermentation and is produced naturally in small amounts by a variety of microorganisms & friendly flora (bacteria) as well as occurring naturally as a component in cocoa butter.
    There is also an Ecocert-approved butylene glycol produced by fermentation of sugar cane which would carry no more ‘toxic chemical’ risk than any other fermented plant alcohol such as vodka or whiskey.

  • Anne Carey says:

    I was wondering if the ingredients in NuSkin products were safe and not
    cancer causing.

  • Kelly Duncan says:

    I wondering why the agency for consumer protection or the EPA agency permits that many beauty products contain chemicals for beauty products and what is more important in the elaboration of food not only for adults but for our infants. I was trying to buy a sun block and I see that all the products inclusive the baby’s products contain BENZOLATE, TITANIUM OXIDE, BUTYLENE GLYCOL, etc and the list continue. It’s very sad that it doesn’t matter we consume or think that the food , the beauty products, cleaning agents etd are full of hazardous chemicals and inclusive DOCTORS many of the doesn’t care.
    The United States as a primary nation don’t care about the human values and health. Organic products are only for Rich people who can afford it but these is a violation of all human being.

  • Helpful information. Lucky me I found your website by accident,
    and I am stunned why this accident did not happened earlier!

    I bookmarked it.

  • becky porter says:

    what is the PH of most of your products? and how do your product penatrate to really make a difference in the skin and be corrective for the skin. Also what are you using for preservatives. Many think paraben’s are bad but there are a few safe ones out there that make great preservatives.

  • g3g says:

    given that no evidence of harmful effect, what exactly is the concern of being a petroleum derivative? All organic foods comprise chemicals that can be derived from petroleum stocks. naturally occurring fruits and vegetables contain beneficial and toxic chemicals which are organic.

  • Tiffany says:

    I wonder how you can claim that people should avoid a naturally occurring derivative from petroleum, also a naturally occurring item; yet you tout other ingredients such as aloe vera, which has a proven toxicity, and completely unproven benefits.

  • Rits says:

    Tiffany you are making no sense if you imagine aloe has no benefits, she did the research that’s how she made the claim. Do research that is unbiased on the benefits of aloe, it has many benefits, so many that people drink it. If you can eat it and its naturally occuring then put it on your skin, that’s the general rule. Do you eat poison ivy? Do you eat petroleum? So would you find benefits from poison ivy since its from the earth as well? How about using that good ol thing called brain.

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