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Butylene glycol is a chemical ingredient used in self-care products like:
Butylene glycol is included in formulas for these types of products because it adds moisture and conditions hair and skin. It also works as a solvent, meaning it keeps other ingredients, dyes, and pigments from clumping up inside of a solution.
Like all glycols, butylene glycol is a type of alcohol. It’s often made from distilled corn.
There are some health concerns that surround the use of butylene glycol. Some experts warn against its use, and cite it on lists of ingredients to avoid when choosing self-care products.
The risk in using butylene glycol is still somewhat unclear. More research is needed to understand how it can affect your body in the long term.
When it comes to skincare products, many contain certain ingredients that are comedogenic (meaning that they are likely to clog your pores and cause what is known as a comedome). A comedome is simply a type of bump (pimple) on the skin. It can either be open (blackhead) or closed (whitehead).
If you have acne prone skin, you need to be extra careful to avoid skincare products that contain comedogenic ingredients, since you probably have pores that are more prone to getting clogged.
But here’s the thing: some ingredients are more comedogenic than others (there is a comedogenic scale), and even the ones that are considered to be the most comedogenic won’t cause comedomes and acne for certain. This is because it all comes down to your individual skin (such as your pore size) and how the product you’re using is formulated.
So is butylene glycol comedogenic? Although it is considered a comedogenic ingredient, it’s only rated as a category 1 ingredient on the comedogenic scale (where ingredients in category 0 will not clog pores and those in category 5 have a high probability that they will clog pores). So, in other words, there is a very low probability that butylene glycol will clog your pores and cause you to breakout.
Butylene glycol is added to all kinds of products that you apply topically. It’s particularly popular in clear gel-based products and in makeup that glides onto your face.
You’ll find it on the ingredients list of sheet masks, shampoos and conditioners, eyeliners, lip liners, anti-aging and hydrating serums, tinted moisturizers, and sunscreens.
“Viscosity” is a word that refers to how well things stick together, particularly in a compound or chemical mixture. Butylene glycol makes other ingredients less likely to stick together, giving makeup and self-care products a fluid and even consistency.
Conditioning agents are ingredients that add a layer of softness or improved texture to your hair or skin. They’re also called moisturizers or, in the case of butylene glycol, humectants.
Butylene glycol works to condition skin and hair by coating the surface of your cells.
Solvents are ingredients that maintain a liquid consistency in a chemical compound. They help active ingredients that could become gritty or clumpy stay dissolved. Butylene glycol keeps the ingredients in cosmetics spread out and in their desired state for use.
Butylene glycol has some health benefits if you have dry skin on your face or frequent breakouts. But it won’t work the same way for every person. Generally, most people who have dry skin can use products with butylene glycol to reduce their symptoms.
Butylene glycol is in some moisturizers made for people who have acne. It isn’t the active ingredient that treats acne in these products. The moisturizing and solvent properties in butylene glycol could make these products right for you.
However, there are reports of this ingredient clogging pores or irritating skin and actually making acne worse.
Based on your symptoms, the cause of your acne, and your skin sensitivity, butylene glycol may be an ingredient that works in your skin care regimen.
Butylene glycol is considered to be largely safe for use as a topical skincare ingredient. While it’s a type of alcohol, it doesn’t typically irritate or dry out skin.
It’s possible to have an allergy to nearly any ingredient, and butylene glycol is no different. There’s at least one report of an allergy to butylene glycol in the medical literature. But an allergic reaction caused by butylene glycol is uncommon.
A very common question is whether butylene glycol is safe to use on your skin during pregnancy.
Unfortunately, there is not enough information available to give a yes or no answer to this question. Only one study looked at the effect that butylene glycol has on the reproductive physiology of rats (which observed changes in neuronal and liver protein synthesis in the developing offspring of rats that were fed butylene glycol during pregnancy).
It’s not much information to go by, so I’d say it really comes down to a personal choice. During my pregnancy, I limited the number of skincare products I was using so that I was avoiding as many chemicals as possible overall. If you are pregnant and have concerns about butylene glycol (or other ingredients or chemicals), I’d advise you to go speak with your doctor for more information.
Butylene glycol is similar to another chemical compound called propylene glycol. Propylene glycol is added to food products, cosmetics, and even de-icing agents, like antifreeze. All glycols are a type of alcohol, and butylene and propylene glycol have a similar molecular shape.
Propylene glycol isn’t used in the same way as butylene glycol. It’s more popular as an emulsifier, anti-caking agent, and texturizer in your food.
However, like butylene glycol, propylene glycol is considered mostly safe when ingested in small amounts or when included in skincare products.
Although butylene glycol has been approved to be safe for skin, I mentioned above that some people may have an allergy to butylene glycol (although it seems to be very rare). Since the majority of Korean skincare products do contain butylene glycol, it can feel like a lost cause trying to find products without it.
You can find a very detailed (and continuously updated) list containing Korean and Western skincare brands and products that contain no or a very low concentration butylene glycol here. Thank you to the person that put together this wealth of information!
I always advise to check up-to-date ingredient lists and do a patch test before using a product. Two great places to find ingredient lists are CosDNA and SkinCarisma.
Butylene glycol is a skincare ingredient that can be found in almost every skincare product (especially Korean skincare products). It’s used to improve some of the properties of skincare products.
Many studies have been conducted over the years and these have led to the understanding and approval that butylene glycol is a safe ingredient when used in skincare and cosmetic products.
However, people with very sensitive skin may experience irritation when using products containing butylene glycol, and although very rare, it is possible to have an allergy to this ingredient too.
Butylene glycol is a popular ingredient in cosmetics and skincare products that’s safe for most people to use. We aren’t sure how common it is to be allergic to this ingredient, but it appears to be quite rare.
Butylene glycol may help condition your hair and make your skin feel softer. Studies point to its relative safety.
I hope I’ve answered some of the questions you may have had about butylene glycol. Let me know if you have any other questions and I’ll try my best to answer them for you.