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What Is Butylene Glycol?


Learn all there is to know about butylene glycol in skincare!

Butylene Glycol in Skincare

With thousands of skin care products on the market, it can be hard to keep track of all the different ingredients that promise to make big, sweeping changes to your skin, whether they have anti-aging properties, hydrating benefits, or acne-clearing powers.

Butylene glycol is a big one these days, and there’s a lot of buzz around it. But what is it, exactly? Here’s everything you need to know.

What is butylene glycol?

The environmental working group (EWG) defines butylene glycol as a “small organic alcohol used as a solvent and skin care agent,” and cosmetic dermatologist Dr. Michele Green says it’s a “water-soluble alcohol that’s derived from petroleum.”

While the definition sounds a bit daunting — and potentially sounds like something you should not use on your skin — the EWG classifies it as not potentially toxic or harmful. 

Butylene glycol in skin care

So, how is butylene glycol used in skin care, exactly? “Butylene glycol  is used in skin care, makeup and hair care products,” Dr. Green says. “It improves hydration to the skin or hair by attracting water to the outer layers. It also facilitates absorption of the active ingredient and is also used as a humectant by attracting moisture to the skin.”

Also, because it acts as a solvent, it helps to keep ingredients evenly distributed, so things like pigments or dyes won’t clump in a solution.

Dr. Green adds that butylene glycol has actually been around for quite some time. “It’s been around for a long time, however it increased in popularity recently over its counterpart, propylene glycol, as it is less irritating.”

Products

Butylene glycol is in a handful of skin care products you apply topically, and is usually in gel-like skin care products, some of which you might already have in your bathroom or medicine cabinet. They include:

Benefits

There are a handful of benefits of butylene glycol for skin, according to Dr. Green. “Butylene glycol is a great moisturizing skin care ingredient and helps to improve the overall look and feel of skin by increasing hydration,” she explains. “Products containing butylene glycol help to create a soft and smooth skin texture and promote moisture retention in the skin for long-lasting results.

Butylene glycol is also sometimes used in moisturizers meant to help with acne, although it isn’t the active ingredient. Still, more research is needed here, as people have used it have reported clogged pores and irritated skin, which has actually worsened their acne.

Butylene glycol safety and side effects

In general, Dr. Green says that she considers butylene glycol to be a safe, effective skin care ingredient — although there hasn’t been a ton of research conducted on it, so we don’t quite know what its long term impact is as of now.

The one issue you might want to watch out for when it comes to butylene glycol safety in the short-term is irritation. “It can definitely be irritating, especially for those with sensitive skin.”

And although it’s pretty uncommon, there have been some reports of allergic contact dermatitis reactions to butylene glycol.

Butylene glycol vs propylene glycol

Butylene glycol is often compared to propylene glycol, and that’s because the two are used in similar products and both derived from petroleum. But Dr. Green says that it’s always a good idea to opt for butylene glycol over propylene glycol.

“These two ingredients are both derivatives of petroleum, however, butylene glycol is less irritating to the skin,” she explains. “Propylene can cause skin irritation therefore not used as often in skin care.”

Summary

Whether you’re looking to add some moisture to your skin or simply want to know what the term “butylene glycol” means, well, now you know — and using it will likely help make your hair and skin feel softer. In general, you can feel pretty good about it as an ingredient in your skin care products — the studies we have show that it’s safe — but it’s important to note that more research is needed to truly understand how it affects the body long term.

Sources

Butylene Glycol.” Environmental Working Group

Cosmetic Dermatologist Dr. Michele Green

Moisturizers for Acne.The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology.

Case of allergic contact dermatitis due to 1,3 – butylene glycol.” The Journal of Dermatology.

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