What Is Butylene Glycol And Why Is It Used In Skincare?

droplets dripping from clear dropper

Butylene glycol has a bad rep. It’s considered a ‘drying and an irritating’ ingredient in cosmetics. So, today let’s break down whether this assessment is fair and what it’s actually used for.

What is butylene glycol?

In skincare, when we refer to butylene glycol we are specifically talking about 1,3-butylene glycol (1,3 refers to the position of the alcohol group on the molecule).

Alcohols in skincare are often used as humectants, things that help your skin hold on to moisture. They are even found in shampoos for the same reason.

Alcohols are also useful solvents. This means, butylene glycol, can help other ingredients dissolve. Even if they aren’t water soluble.

There is also some research which suggests BG is antibacterial. The study linked showed BG as having the ability to kill some micro organisms. Although, it wasn’t as effective as hexylene glycol.

All in all, the ability to hydrate, dissolve and kill micro organisms makes this ingredient useful in cosmetics.

Even given its useful properties, it’s still labelled as ‘toxic’ or an ‘irritant’. Why is this?

Image taken from the EWG website showing the chemical structure of

Is butylene glycol toxic?

For a long time, BG, was considered a low level irritant in skincare, even though its main function was to act as a humectant.

There is evidence to back this up as there is never smoke without fire. Some people have experienced irritation when using this product.

Just take a look at this study, which showed a case of allergic contact dermatitis due to BG.

Is BG safe to use in cosmetics? Yes, and it is a useful ingredient.

Can it cause irritation? Yes. If your definition of toxic is that it causes your skin irritation, then you may call it toxic.

However, as I discussed in a previous post on this topic, you shouldn’t be alarmed to find this in your skincare. It is completely safe. That doesn’t mean you can’t be allergic and therefore irritated by it.

If you find yourself irritated by your skincare and you’re not sure why, it could be BG that’s causing you problems. Try


Aizawa, A., Ito, A., Masui, Y., & Ito, M. (2014). Case of allergic contact dermatitis due to 1, 3‐butylene glycol. The Journal of dermatology41(9), 815-816.

Kinnunen, T., & Koskela, M. (1991). Antibacterial and antifungal properties of propylene glycol, hexylene glycol, and 1, 3-butylene glycol in vitro. Acta dermato-venereologica71(2), 148-150.

Aizawa, A., Ito, A., Masui, Y., & Ito, M. (2014). Case of allergic contact dermatitis due to 1, 3‐butylene glycol. The Journal of dermatology41(9), 815-816.

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