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:
- as a solvent (helps other products dissolve in water),
- as a viscosity-decreasing agent (to thin creams and gels so they're easier to use),
- 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.
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?