Truth About Butylene Glycol, According to Skin Experts

With expert insight from Morgan Rabach, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and co-founder of LM Medical in NYC and cosmetic chemist Ron Robinson of, we take a further look into the pros and cons of butylene glycol to figure out why it's used as a substitute for propylene glycol. Keep reading to find out everything there is to know about the ingredient that’s becoming increasingly popular in your skincare.

Butylene Glycol

Type of ingredient: Humectant, solvent, and emollient

Main benefits: Retains moisture, dissolves ingredients, and improves application.

Who should use it: In general, anyone looking for a way to effectively moisturize their skin.

How often can you use it: Butylene glycol is safe for daily use for those who do not have an allergy to it or very sensitive skin.

Works well with: As a solvent, butylene glycol works well with ingredients that are not water-soluble and are difficult to dissolve.

Don't use with: Butylene glycol works well with most, if not all, ingredients.

What Is Butylene Glycol?

Butylene glycol is an organic alcohol derived from petroleum and is water- soluble. For cosmetic purposes, it comes in a liquid form and is found in countless skincare products such as cleansers, moisturizers, and masks, as well as makeup and haircare products. Butylene glycol has many different roles in skincare formulations (it's a humectant, solvent, and emollient) and is used as an alternative to the more commonly known controversial ingredient propylene glycol.

Benefits of Butylene Glycol for Skin

As a multifunctional ingredient in cosmetics, butylene glycol does a little bit of everything:

  • Attracts water: Robinson says butylene glycol is a humectant, which means it binds water and pulls in hydration to the outer layer of the skin.
  • Enhances penetration: By breaking down hard-to-dissolve active ingredients, butylene glycol improves penetration, which, as a result, helps the product perform more effectively.
  • Conditions and smooths: In addition to being a humectant, butylene glycol may also function as an emollient by creating a barrier on the skin, which prevents water loss and softens and conditions.

Side Effects of Butylene Glycol

It's important to note that just because an ingredient is derived from petroleum doesn't automatically make it dangerous to use. In its final chemical structure form, butylene glycol is considered safe for cosmetic use. Studies show that butylene glycol is an ingredient with low-levels of irritation, and the occurrence of allergic contact dermatitis is rare, although still a possibility. It can be irritating to people with very sensitive skin, and these skin types should avoid this ingredient if it leads to allergic rashes, according to Rabach and Robinson. If you do experience irritation or an itchy rash, discontinue use of the product and consult a physician. With formal patch testing, your dermatologist or allergist can determine if butylene glycol is the cause of your reaction.

How to Use It

Because butylene glycol is such a versatile ingredient and is found in so many products, there isn’t one certain way to apply it. In general, Rabach says butylene glycol is safe for daily use. As far as when to use products containing the ingredient, how often to use it, or how much should be used, consult your dermatologist or follow the directions specified on the product label.

The Best Products With Butylene Glycol

As far as moisturizers under $20 go, you can't do much better than this formula. The pure Arctic spring water definitely makes this feel more like a luxe night cream than a drugstore-buy, and it melts beautifully into skin for an ultra- hydrating, softening effect.

This booster is one of our favorite products for post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation because it's packed with all the right ingredients to tackle an acne breakout and calm inflammation: azelaic acid, salicylic acid, licorice root extract, and allantoin. Butylene glycol is another key ingredient worth noting because not only does it promise hydrating benefits, but it is also meant to help active ingredients better penetrate the skin.

This ishonest Skincare Award-winning face cream is not exactly cheap, but it certainly delivers in results. Unlike some moisturizers, which simply feel nice when applied, this cream is as scientific as it is luxurious (according to the brand, it triggers your own stem cell regeneration process). The formula is packed with skin-loving ingredients, like argan and avocado oils, antioxidants, and essential fatty acids as well as butylene glycol to keep it all flowing nicely.

This dry mask is infused with vitamins, peptides, and oils, and the humectant properties of butylene glycol also make it a notable ingredient in this magically hydrating mask. The best part? Unlike most sheet masks that are tossed after one use, you can wear this one three times before opening a new one. Once you give it a try, you'll see why it's one of our favorites.

Backed by beauty editors, YouTubers, and skincare Redditors, Tatcha is the beauty industry's worst kept secret. This gel-to-foam cleanser from the brand is beloved for its use of silk-derived amino acids meant to gently and effectively cleanse while ingredients like Japanese luffa fruit exfoliant and butylene glycol simultaneously promise to hydrate the skin.

If you have yet to find a retinol that doesn't completely destroy your skin barrier in the process, give this dermatologist-approved night cream a try. It uses moisturizing and skin-soothing ingredients allantoin, niacinamide, and butylene glycol to counteract the irritation caused by the powerful retinoid and lactic acid blend.

Anyone with dry skin knows that washing your face is a sensitive topic. Many cleansers strip the skin and leave it feeling tight and flaky, but this gel cleanser soothes as it removes all traces of makeup, dirt, and debris. The viscosity reducer butylene glycol makes this cleanser easy to apply, which is great because like us, you won't want to stop using it.

Butylene glycol is generally safe to use daily. If you have an allergic reaction or severely sensitive skin, consult your dermatologist.

Butylene glycol is naturally-derived from sugarcane.

Environmental Working Group. Butylene glycol.

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