Butylene glycol for skin is used in just about any kind of skin care or beauty product you can imagine. From make-up to moisturizer, and shampoo to serums, it’s pretty much everywhere, which is why it’s important to understand what it is and what it does. In short, it performs a myriad of functions from acting as a humectant to giving products a uniform consistency, making it a great, important ingredient.
It’s absolutely no surprise that the beauty industry is constantly recalibrating its products. Taking away one ingredient and adding another, adding a little more of this and a little more of that. This is one reason butylene glycol is so popular right now. Often used as a replacement for propylene glycol (which we’ll discuss below), butylene glycol is thought to be less potentially irritating and just as effective. Because of its gentle nature and its incredible ability to hydrate the skin, it’s perfect for a number of skin types from dry to super sensitive--another reason it has incredible versatility!
IN A NUTSHELL
Ingredient Category: Humectant, emollient, solvent, stabilizer.
Main Benefit: As both a humectant and an emollient, butylene glycol is excellent for hydrating the skin both by pulling up moisture from the skin and by adding moisture topically.
Find It In: Butylene glycol can be found in everything from moisturizers to cleansers to hair products.
What is Butylene Glycol?
Butylene glycol or 1,3-Butanediol, is an organic compound that is classified as a diol (an alcohol containing two hydroxyl groups in its molecule). A colorless, water-soluble liquid, it contains four carbon atoms and two (OH) alcohol groups. If you’re super into chemistry, its official formula is CH3CH(OH)CH2CH2OH!
Butylene Glycol Skin Benefits
As we mentioned above, butylene glycol has many benefits for the skin. Among them is the fact that butylene glycol is both a humectant and an emollient. Why is this so important? Well, humectants literally draw hydration right to the top layer of the skin, making it look dewy, young, and well moisturized. As a humectant, butylene glycol helps keep skin moisturized, hydrated, and looking its youngest! But in addition to drawing hydration to the skin’s top layer, it also moisturizes it topically. That’s a major reason it’s used in hydrating products like hair conditioners and moisturizers. Because of its ability to direct moisture to the skin from both internal and external directions, it’s an incredibly effective anti-aging ingredient!
Another benefit of butylene glycol is that it’s also a solvent. As a solvent, it helps other ingredients break down when put in water. This may not seem all that important or like a big deal, but if you could see what your beauty products would look and feel like without a solvent, you’d know that it actually is. Basically, they’d pretty much all be the consistency of undercooked oatmeal--clumpy, lumpy and pretty much impossible to use. Additionally, butylene glycol helps stabilize and thicken other ingredients. Just as it acts as a solvent, butylene glycol also helps stabilize and thicken ingredients so your cosmetics aren’t just a big soupy mess!
Butylene glycol is also great for most skin types. Because of its non-irritating properties, butylene glycol is great for sensitive skin types. Not only that, but butylene glycol is low on the comedogenic scale. Rated only a “1” on the comedogenic scale, it’s unlikely to clog pores, making it a great ingredient for oily skin types. And, because of it’s super hydration powers we mentioned earlier, it’s also great for those with dry skin.
Finally, we love that butylene glycol is vegan! Butylene glycol is now derived synthetically (don’t freak out--we promise, it’s perfectly fine!), and is completely vegan!
How To Use Butylene Glycol
Check the back of your skin care and even your hair care and you’ll most likely find that butylene glycol is listed as an ingredient in many of them. As both a hydrating ingredient and one that keeps products stable, it’s used in a large variety of products including shampoo, conditioner, face masks, moisturizers, cleansers, sunscreens, serums, and all kinds of other skin care products!
And if you happen to be a skin care DIY’er, consider it as a stabilizer for your products.
Butylene Glycol vs. Propylene Glycol: What’s the difference and which one is better?
If you’re a skin care follower you’ve probably heard about propylene glycol and wondered what the difference is between it and butylene glycol. While both are petroleum products (again--don’t freak out--they’re completely safe to use!), are colorless, and do pretty much the same thing, propylene glycol is considered to be more likely to irritate skin than butylene glycol. Because of that, butylene glycol is often used as a substitute for propylene glycol in skin care.
You also might have heard that butylene glycol is used in antifreeze and is therefore dangerous. While it is used in antifreeze, it is not dangerous to use on the skin (water is used in antifreeze as well, by the way!). Like a lot of people, you may be getting butylene glycol mixed up with another glycol--ethylene glycol which is dangerous to the skin and which is also used in antifreeze.
Not convinced? Consider this: the Environmental Working Group, otherwise known as the EWG, has classified butylene glycol on its “Danger Scale” as a “1,” meaning it has their lowest possible danger rating.
We hope this helps clarify what butylene glycol is--and what it isn’t! For an ingredient most people don’t know much about, this triple threat performs an amazing number of tasks!