When reading skin care product ingredient lists, you may come across a chemical called butylene glycol, and wonder about what it does and how it works. After all, this ingredient doesn’t sound very natural, and some skin care blogs even go so far as to accuse this chemical of being a carcinogen, and worse. However, one of the biggest issues many bloggers seem to have with butylene glycol is that it’s derived from petroleum. Hearing the word “petroleum” they seem to immediately associate this ingredient with gasoline and crude oil, and maybe even have nightmares about Daniel Day Lewis’ character in There Will be Blood drinking their milkshake. But is butylene glycol really such a bad ingredient? After all, there are many other helpful skin care ingredients that aren’t derived naturally. To better understand butylene glycol, let’s take a look at how this chemical is used in skin care.
How is Butylene Glycol Used?
There are several reasons why skin care companies may include butylene glycol in skin care formulations.
Firstly, butylene glycol is added to skin care products to increase penetration by other ingredients in the formulation. The problem with many skin creams and serums is that the active ingredients have a molecular weight that’s a bit too large for effective skin penetration.
Hence, it is common for only a small portion of the beneficial ingredients to penetrate the skin, with the remainder sitting on the skin surface and doing little good for skin health. By increasing skin penetration, butylene glycol can boost the overall effectiveness of the product.
Secondly, butylene glycol is sometimes included in formulations to give creams a thinner consistency. Although a thick cream can feel luxurious, the thickness can also create a greasy, uncomfortable sensation in some individuals.
By thinning the cream formula, butylene glycol can make the product more enjoyable to use and reduce the amount of time needed for a thick coat of cream to dissipate. After all, it may be great to use a thick cream before bed time, but if you’re in a rush, a thin cream is a more convenient option.
Thirdly, butylene glycol can also act as a solvent, and makes it easier for other ingredients in the formula to mix. This quality helps create a more homogenous cream texture.
Lastly, this chemical also has humectant properties. By drawing moisture to the skin from the surrounding atmosphere, butylene glycol can add needed hydration to skin cells and can even play a role in easing the appearance of wrinkles.
Products that Contain Butylene Glycol
Butylene glycol is used in literally thousands of skin care and personal care products. One of the reasons for such wide adoption is that this chemical is relatively cheap, and because it has such a wide variety of effects on the skin. For example, it’s commonly formulated into moisturizers, acne creams, BB creams, face masks, eyeliner, sunscreen, shaving cream, and even hair spray.
One product that relies on butylene glycol is Dermalogica UltraCalming Serum Concentrate. In addition to this chemical, this Dermalogica serum also has ingredients like acetyl tetrapeptide-5, to reduce inflammation; pentylene glycol, to condition the skin; and capric triglyceride, to moisturize.
Another formulation that has butylene glycol is Dr. Brandt Pores No More. Additionally, this Dr. Brandt product also has oleanolic acid, which is an antioxidant; tea tree oil, to promote skin healing; and glycerin, to moisturize the skin.
Side Effects of Butylene Glycol
Although butylene glycol has many benefits for the skin, one of the likeliest side effects from this chemical is the potential for skin irritation. Several studies suggest that this ingredient can cause a rash around the eyes and other forms of irritation in individuals with sensitive skin. Further, it may even cause irritation of the respiratory passages if it is accidentally inhaled from products like hair spray or skin mist sprayers.
However, such butylene glycol side effects are not believed to be a serious concern to most individuals, according to skin care experts. None-the-less, it’s a good idea to speak with a dermatologist before using products with this ingredient, especially if you have sensitive skin.
Additionally, it’s important to note that even natural skin care ingredients can cause skin irritation and inflammation. For example, botanical extracts and exotic chemicals (like bee venom) can also cause redness and irritation in some consumers.
Butylene Glycol Alternatives
Although butylene glycol can be a helpful skin care ingredient, it’s understandable that some individuals can be apprehensive about this chemical and may decide to seek alternatives.
One such alternative that can be very beneficial to most consumers is hyaluronic acid. This chemical typically has very low instances of side effects, because it is naturally found in the human body and the immune system usually doesn’t interpret it as a pathogen. Hyaluronic acid has very strong moisture-attracting properties and can often deliver stronger moisturizing results than butylene glycol.
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