Propylene glycol and butylene glycol are two of the most prolific ingredients in over-the-counter skincare products. The beauty industry relies on them as a cost-effective way to produce and preserve products. But the true question is: what is it costing your skin?
What is Propylene Glycol?
Propylene glycol is a clear, colorless petroleum plastic product made from fermentation of yeast and carbohydrates. It is used in a variety of food, cosmetic, pharmaceutical and cleaning solvent applications. The Food & Drug Administration deems propylene glycol safe for humans in small doses and therefore it has been used for over 50 years in the U.S.
Propylene glycol acts as a preservative, prolonging the shelf-life of many products, especially on skincare aisles. In fact, it is the most common ingredient in personal care items, exceeding 4,000 unique products. The over $135 billion in revenue made by the personal care products industry depends on the ability to efficiently produce and preserve their products. Propylene glycol congeals ingredients like oil and water, and it works as a conditioning agent on skin.
The Propylene glycol chemical is also found in antifreeze, acetone, chloroform and heavy duty degreasing agents. It is said to be so powerful, it can dissolve through a stainless steel tank in two days and must be stored in heavy duty containers. Workers must wear gloves, goggles and protective clothing to prevent exposure to their skin and eyes.
What is Butylene Glycol?
Butylene Glycol is another petroleum byproduct. Colorless with a sweet but slightly bitter aftertaste, butylene glycol is used similarly to propylene glycol as a solvent, product thinning agent and skin conditioner. It is found in about 10% off all over-the-counter beauty products including creams, lotions, sunscreens, moisturizers and cosmetics. It is also used to make constructions materials from polyester plastics such as sheets and boards, molding and materials for boats.
Much like propylene glycol, butylene glycol is a preservative. It helps keep products moist and well formed over time. It is resistant to humidity, which is why it is useful in construction materials.
Why are Propylene Glycol and Butylene Glycol Dangerous?
Propylene glycol and butylene glycol are extremely powerful chemicals. If they can dissolve and clean industrial surfaces, imagine what they can do to your skin. Propylene glycol and butylene glycol easily penetrate skin and weaken protein and cellular structure. Surely this is not a result anyone would desire. The goal of skincare should be to nourish, repair, rebuild and refresh cells, especially the vital protein chains that power them.
Propylene glycol and butylene glycol can cause skin irritation, dermatitis and hives from too many mast skin cells. Repeated exposure may also lead to sensitivity or skin allergies, especially to propylene glycol. Once an allergic reaction occurs, the body’s immune system remembers the invader and will react negatively each time it comes in contact with the substance.
While the FDA claims propylene glycol and butylene glycol are safe in small doses, over exposure can be harmful. The Environmental Protection Agency warns against excessive contact with these two glycols as they may have effects including brain, liver and kidney abnormalities. Because propylene glycol and butylene glycol are found in so many personal care products, it’s unclear how much exposure a person gets daily. All the more reason to make a conscious decision to avoid it, especially facial contact.
Additionally both propylene glycol and butylene glycol’s main function is as a preservative. We all try to avoid preservatives in our food, and it’s important to do the same with our skincare products. The longevity of a products shelf-life should not dictate the skin’s best interest. Sacrificing quality for the largest organ of your body is unnecessary and unhealthy.
Petroleum plastics used in harsh cleaning solvents and construction materials are not part of a skincare formula we recommend. There is a place and a purpose for such products, but it is not on your skin.