Butylene Glycol In Skin Care: Everything You Need To Know

Written by Arshiya Syeda

The list of trending ingredients to watch out for in the skin care community is ever-changing. Once, the wildly popular and now controversial ingredient, propylene glycol, is now being replaced by butylene glycol – a compound that is considered to be less harmful to the skin (1), (2). If you religiously read the labels of skin care products you buy, you must have come across butylene glycol. It is a common ingredient found in products that you can apply topically.

If you are unsure about using butylene glycol, this article is for you. Here, we will outline the uses, benefits, pros, cons, risks, and precautionary measures for using this ingredient. Let us jump right in!

What Is Butylene Glycol?

Butylene glycol is a type of organic alcohol that is derived from petroleum, distilled corn, and sugarcane. This water-soluble ingredient works as an excellent texture-enhancer and is similar to propylene glycol, with the exception being that it has a lighter texture. In terms of appearance, it is a clear, odorless, and viscous liquid. It is known to have a slightly sweet taste and a bitter after-taste.

There are four forms of butylene glycol that differ in composition and offer a wide host of skin care benefits depending on their formula and structure.

  • 1,2-butanediol: It acts as a humectant and solvent. It is extremely effective in decreasing the overall viscosity of a product and boosting the skin penetration abilities of other ingredients.
  • 1,3-butanediol: This is the most commonly used form of butylene glycol. It doubles up as an effective alternative to propylene glycol and glycerol because it has better solvency. It also demonstrates humectant properties and reduces the viscosity of products while preventing them from drying out and crystallizing. It has been branded as non-toxic as it does not cause skin irritation at a safe level of concentration.
  • 2,3-butanediol: It is a potent viscosity reducer but is not widely used in skin care products. Since not much research has been done to understand its toxic side effects, this form of butylene glycol has not been used in skin care products yet.
  • 1,4-butanediol: It is typically used as a solvent in cosmetic products. However, it offers limited properties and is generally used in eye products because it does not irritate the eyes.

Here are a few defining characteristics of butylene glycol:

  • It is typically used for cosmetic purposes and is found in all kinds of skin care products – from cleansers and moisturizers to face masks and makeup products. It helps to create a smooth, thick product that can glide onto the skin and hair effortlessly. In other words, it acts as an effective solvent for other ingredients and as a penetration enhancer, helping the product seep into the skin faster and deeper.
  • Depending on the product and skin care formulation, butylene glycol serves as a humectant, solvent, and emollient. These properties allow it to attract water into the skin and keep it hydrated for a longer period of time. At the same time, it can create a barrier on the skin and prevent water loss. This leads to softer, conditioned skin.
  • It basically helps to stabilize skin care products. Plus, skin care products usually have a thinner consistency as thick creams can feel uncomfortable and greasy.

Now that you understand what butylene glycol is, let us look at the best way to use it.

The Best Way To Use Butylene Glycol

Many skin care products contain butylene glycol – from shampoos and hydrating serums to sunscreen and cosmetics. Thus, there is no need to apply it separately. In most formulations, the strength of butylene glycol ranges from 0.001-50%.

If you want to know when to use the product, how often to use it, how much to use, and what other products to complement its use with, speak to your dermatologist.

Next, let us dive into the benefits of butylene glycol for the skin.

Benefits Of Butylene Glycol For Skin

Butylene glycol is found in a wide range of skin care products. Its benefits include:

1. Moisturizes And Smoothens The Skin

Butylene glycol works as an emollient and a humectant and helps retain skin moisture by creating a barrier on the skin. This ultimately prevents water loss and conditions the skin from within. Thus, it acts as the perfect skin conditioning agent (3).

2. Works As An Effective Solvent

Butylene glycol is difficult to dissolve and is often combined with non-water-soluble ingredients. Its solvent properties allow for hard-to-dissolve ingredients to break down easily without clumping up, thus allowing easy application and improved product penetration (4).

3. Hydrates The Skin

Due to its humectant properties, butylene glycol easily binds water and attracts water molecules to the outer layer of the skin (5). Thus, it adequately hydrates the skin.

4. Treats Acne

Butylene glycol is often used in moisturizers that help treat acne. While this ingredient cannot treat acne directly, its moisturizing and solvent properties help in treating the associated symptoms of dry, acne-prone skin (6).

Note: Before using this ingredient, consult a dermatologist about your acne symptoms, the cause of your acne, the level of skin sensitivity, etc., or else you risk making your acne worse.

5. Acts As A Viscosity-Reducing Agent

Butylene glycol ensures that the other ingredients in your skin care product do not stick to each other, thus offering a fluid and even consistency to the product.

Now that you have understood the benefits of butylene glycol, let us address the elephant in the room.

Is Butylene Glycol Safe For The Skin?

Though butylene glycol is used in antifreeze as it helps lower the freezing point of water, it is not as toxic as ethylene glycol. However, there is still a lot of controversy surrounding this ingredient due to the following misconceptions:

  • Its Manufacturing Process Is Not Sustainable: Since this ingredient is produced synthetically, there is a misconception in the beauty industry that it is toxic even though it is not. According to the Environmental Working Group, butylene glycol is rated 1 out of 10 (with 10 being the most hazardous) on the “danger scale” (7).
  • Sensitivity Due To High Concentrations In The Manufacturing Process: Since the manufacturing process of skin care products involves using high concentrations of butylene glycol, there is concern that it might cause irritation and sensitivity. But with the right manufacturing safety guidelines in place, there is no need to worry.
  • It Dries Out The Skin: Butylene glycol does not dry out your skin or make it irritable, despite being an alcohol.

Here’s the truth – as long as you are not allergic to it and do not have very sensitive skin, you can use products containing butylene glycol every day. It is considered safe for its approved applications in cosmetics and skin care.

Lastly, let’s run through its side effects and precautionary measures to keep in mind.

Butylene Glycol – Side Effects And Precautions

While there is widespread concern about the safety of butylene glycol and more research needs to be done to understand its risks and long-term impact on the body, it is considered safe to use. Despite being derived from petroleum, this chemical is generally considered safe for cosmetic use, demonstrating low levels of irritation and the rare occurrence of allergic contact dermatitis (1).

That said, here are a few precautionary measures to keep in mind when using this ingredient:

  • If you have very sensitive skin, avoid using this ingredient as it can further irritate your skin and cause rashes.
  • If you have a known allergy to butylene glycol, do not use products containing this ingredient.
  • If you have acne-prone skin, use products containing butylene glycol with caution as it may clog your pores and cause breakouts, blackheads, and whiteheads.
  • Using it in high concentrations can irritate your eyes or nasal passage, especially if it comes in contact with them.
  • Always do a patch test prior to using any product with this ingredient. If you experience irritation or an itchy rash, stop using it immediately and consult a dermatologist.
  • If you are pregnant or lactating, avoid using butylene glycol because not much research has been done to prove its safety during pregnancy.

Closing Thoughts

Butylene glycol is a versatile ingredient that is power-packed with a host of skin care applications. It acts as a fragrance, skin-conditioning agent, solvent, viscosity-decreasing agent, and humectant (7). It works well with most products, making it a useful ingredient.

Given its widespread use, it has emerged as a popular ingredient in cosmetics and skin care products. It is generally considered safe to use and does not cause adverse reactions unless you have sensitive skin.

That said, make sure to include this all-purpose ingredient in your skincare regimen only after speaking to a dermatologist.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should you avoid butylene glycol during pregnancy?

Yes, you should avoid this ingredient if you are pregnant or lactating because not a lot of research has been done to prove its safety for expecting/lactating mothers.

Is butylene glycol comedogenic?

Butylene glycol has a comedogenic rating of 1 (the highest rating), making it suitable for acne-prone skin. However, there have been reports that it can worsen acne.

Are propylene glycol and butylene glycol worth worrying about?

Propylene glycol is more of a skin-irritant than butylene glycol. According to the Cosmetic Ingredient Review, both propylene glycol and butylene glycol are safe to use in lower proportions – less than 20% for propylene glycol and less than 50% for butylene glycol (8).

Is butylene glycol safe for sensitive skin?

Butylene glycol is not considered safe to use for sensitive skin. It is best that you consult a dermatologist and do a patch test before using it if you have sensitive skin.

Is butylene glycol a natural ingredient?

No, butylene glycol is synthesized in the lab. It is extracted from natural gas/petroleum.

What is another name for butylene glycol?

Other names of butylene glycol include 1,3-butylene glycol, butane-1,3-diol, and 1,3-dihydroxybutane.


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