Ingredient Watch List: Butylene Glycol, Another Questionable Petroleum Product

Butylene Glycol

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?

Celanese Limited, “1,3-Butanedial, USEPA HPV Challenge Program Submission,” July 14, 2003, Toxicology and Regulatory Affairs,
Photo courtesy BFactoryUK via

comments (27 and counting)


Reader Interactions


    • Annmarie Skin Care says

      Hi there,

      Hyaluronic acid is a humectant, which means that it pulls water and hydration from the air and from within the skin to balance out the water content in the skin. We use it in our serums, which are aloe-based (so water based) products. Because hyaluronic acid is all about water and hydration, we don’t really use it as on oil soluble product, though it’s great to use before using an oil because the oil will help lock in the hydration!

  1. Experienced user says

    In this article glycol are said to be petroleum-derived compounds. However, the structure on butylene glycol as well as other glycols are alcohols. Butylene glycol (more often 1,4-butylene glycol) can be found in some plant products like cocoa butter. However, it never exist in petroleum products. Of course petroleum-derivated products can be used in Butylene Glycol synthesis, but it’s the same with practically all organic molecules including vitamins and other vital and natural compounds. It’s true that butylene glycol in cosmetics are synthetic products, because in nature it exist so tiny amounts that separation it from natural fats is not economically feasible. Anyway, structurally it’s much more natural product that petroleum-derivated product. It decomposes to gamma-hydroxybutyric acid which was mentioned in article. However, there was not mentioned that this compound is metabolized further yielding acetyl-coenzyme A, which is vital and important compound in cellular level energy production. As a humectant, butylene glycol is not as adhesive as glycerin and feels much better in skin and have similar moisturizing properties. Very few can get allergic reaction, but generally butylene glycol is very safe. My favorite cream contains butylene glycol and I’m not worried about it.

    • Nichole Jones says

      You made some excellent points. If something has moisturizing properties, works well on the skin, doesn’t cause any type of allergic reactions, etc., why should you be avoiding it? I feel like the “natural” websites, make everything out to be worse and more dangerous than what it is. It literally has been shown time and time again to be safe and effective in skincare.

  2. Booker says

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  3. Alvin says

    Too much use of chemicals is appalling for skin. I’m suffering from skin infection from last three years due to usage of fairness creams.

  4. custom formula supplement manufacturing says

    Asking questions are really good thing if you are not understanding anything totally, but
    this article presents pleasant understanding even.

  5. virginia grogg says

    My questions is regarding the Ingestion of Propylene glycol in things like “miralax”. I feel as though I am ingesting pure oil?. However my body and physician continue to insist that I need this in the treatment of my bowl disease?

    As with other petroleum products, I prefer to stay away but as I try I have not been able to find another product that helps me, including all natural and probiotics ?

    Any suggestions?

    Virginia , Concerned

  6. MermaidCollins says

    Sooo…I you’ve presented an issue but not a solution….except to buy other people’s …and your products.
    What if you are making your own products? What’s the alternative ingredient to using this chemical?

  7. Rness says

    Just a note: Butylene Glycol could be any one of these four compounds: 1,2-Butanediol, 1,3-Butanediol, 1,4-Butanediol, and 2,3-Butanediol. 1,2 is used in making resins, 1,3 is used in food coloring breakdown and hypoglycemic medicines, 1,4 is used to synthesize plastics and can be used as an illegal drug, and finally 2,3 which is a precursor to plastics and some pesticides but is found naturally in various plants and in cocoa butter. Which one the cosmetics industries use (as they are NOT all the same in any way) will determine whether or not you should use it.

  8. KD says

    I am wondering if any SMART people OR smart ASSES on here have an opinion or input on why these glycols started out lower on the ingredients list, but have now moved their way up on the list of ingredients over time…as high as number 2.

    Some say glycols started out lower on the ingredients list because it was generally not considered to be the safest ingredient out there. Cheaper, yes, but the safety of glycols was highly questionable.

    Why does it deserve to be or need to be number 2 on the list, versus number 10 (figuratively speaking), like it used to be.

    Curious to read the comments, arguments and reasoning’s of the people for the petrol industry, and the people against.

    • Mat says

      It is very hard to get a stable cream with high percentage of Glycols. Over time new formulation and emulsifiers could make stable formulas with high percentage of Glycol. BG is one of the best humectant in the market. Lack of humidity on the skins’s surface cause wrinkles!

      I am a cosmetic scientist.

  9. Caroline says

    Hello, I wanna ask for a list of raw materials of petrochemical origin used in cosmetics products.
    Thank you.
    I’m waiting for your answer.

  10. Celine S. says

    I was advised to avoid petroleum-based products due to them increasing and/or causing hot flashes.
    For a time, I used a petroleum-containing facial moisturizer under a foundation, & I used to have to turn on a fan right away because a hot flash would ensue!!!
    So I’m wondering, because some lotions have the ingredient far down on the list, how much petroleum is needed to be influential? Am I just ultra-sensitive to that ingredient? I wonder, depending on HOW processed/broken down it is, if it will even be a factor?
    As far as that cause and effect goes, though, even hot drinks, caffeinated or not, bring on hot flashes too.
    I guess I have to buy and try . . . .

  11. Teena says

    To the person that says organic products are only for rich people: If you have time to be on this site and leave a message, then you have time to find an organic and cheap skin care line. There are literally dozens of them. The level of helplessness and complacency in your comment is irritating and does absolutely nothing to improve our country. Learn to help yourself and be strong!

    • ChrisC says

      Well in that case, make sure you don’t use ANY plastic in your life. Heaven forbid, they are petroleum based. I hope you don’t drive a car, lots of petroleum in them things. You don’t actually fly as well do you? So much Petroleum, ew. the blogger didn’t mention BG derived from Molasses. Is that just as bad? My goodness, I just realised my cell phone is made from Petroleum based parts, and I use it next to my face, OMG!

    • stroydex says

      So what if it’s derived from petroleum? In that process it may wind up containing significant side-products (impurities), OR at the other end of the scale, trace amounts within FDA tolerances. That all depends on quality control. The FDA watches this industry. If you buy your BC from a shady outfit in chinkland via Alibaba the “ebay” of China’s mega supply-chain, trouble may be expected. US-made BC will be clean. Understand, pinhead?

      • frreeka says

        “chinkland” and “pinhead” completely invalidated any legitimacy you might (doubtfully) be capable of. You just showed yourself to be an angry person without a valid point to add to the discussion—one who resorts to name-calling.

      • concerned Human Being says

        Don’t be a Bully!!!

        Yes,the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) permits Butylene Glycol to be used as a synthetic flavoring and adjuvant for direct addition to food. Butylene Glycol, Hexylene Glycol and Dipropylene Glycol are allowed to be used as indirect food additives.

        Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) studies individual chemical compounds as they are used in cosmetic products.

        CIR Safety Review: The CIR Expert Panel noted that Butylene Glycol, Hexylene Glycol, Ethoxydiglycol and Dipropylene Glycol which Results of inhalation, acute and subchronic cutaneous (relating to affecting the skin) toxicity studies likewise supported – a low order of toxicity.

        How much is LOW ORDER – enough to kill? and in how many years?

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

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