Four Reasons Your Skincare Products Contain Ethylhexylglycerin - The Dermatology Review

Four Reasons Your Skincare Products Contain Ethylhexylglycerin

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08.27.20 AD DISCLOSURE

Ethylhexylglycerin is an ingredient that is found in many skincare and cosmetic formulations. Ethylhexylglycerin is utilized in these products for its natural preservative action and its use as a skin conditioner. It is thought that ethylhexylglycerin’s preservative characteristics come from its ability to also act as a surfactant. Surfactants are ingredients that reduce the surface tension, in the case of Ethylhexylglycerin, the disruption in surface tension and potentially damages the cell membranes of bacteria, preventing their growth. Due to ethylhexylglycerin’s antimicrobial action, it also makes a great deodorizing ingredient. 

 Ethylhexylglycerin is derived from glycerine, obtained mainly from plant-based sources such as soybean or palm. Ethylhexylglycerin was first introduced to the cosmetic market in 1992 as a skincare additive and deodorant active called Sensiva SC50. Ethylhexylglycerin is used in a wide variety of skincare, body, and cosmetic products. It can be found in bath products, body and hand products, cleansing products, deodorants, eye makeup, foundations, hair care products, and suntan products.

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Ethylhexylglycerin

the good:Ethylhexylglycerin is a skin conditioning agent, helping to improve the appearance of the skin but also has beneficial anti-microbial, deodorizing and preservative effects.

the not so good:It can cause some minor irritation to the skin and eyes. This usually occurs in high concentrations. Skincare and cosmetic products typically contain low concentrations of ethylhexylglycerin.

Who is it for?All skin types except those that have an identified allergy to it.

Synergetic ingredients:Works well with most ingredients

Keep an eye on:B Sensitive skin types should be mindful that ethylhexylglycerin has been linked to some irritation, particularly those who experience contact dermatitis.

What are the four main benefits of Ethylhexylglycerin?

Ethylhexylglycerin can function as a preservative, surfactant, deodorizer, and a skin-conditioning agent. 

  1. Preservative

    As a preservative, ethylhexylglycerin works by reducing surface tension on the cellular walls of microorganisms or bacteria. This results in the destruction of the cell walls for the bacteria, preventing their growth. Ethylhexylglycerin may be an alternative to parabens in the formulation.
    A study published in PLOS ONE investigated whether ethylhexylglycerin may enhance the function of other preservatives in a formulation, such as phenoxyethanol, methylisothiazolinone, or methylparaben. This research seemed to suggest that ethylhexylglycerin can support the role of other preservatives, making sure your product is safe and can last. Without preservatives, the natural compounds, essential oils, and ingredients in your beauty products would spoil more quickly, reducing their effectiveness and reducing their safety.
  2. Surfactant

    Ethylhexylglycerin also functions as a surfactant. Surfactants are compounds that lower the surface tension between two substances and work to mix the two substances. This action is particularly useful in skincare and cosmetic products to mix oil and water-based ingredients, allowing them to be used in moisturizers without separating and in washes without leaving residue on the skin. This is possible because while one end of the surfactant molecule is attracted to water, the other end is attracted to oil. Thus, surfactants attract the oil, dirt, and other impurities that have accumulated on your skin during the day and wash them away. Due to these properties, ethylhexylglycerin can be found in many different cleansers and body washes.
  3. Deodorizing

    Ethylhexylglycerin is used in many deodorants and deodorizing products. This is due to its antimicrobial action, it prevents the growth and multiplication of odor-causing bacteria, while at the same time not affecting the beneficial skin flora.
  4. Skin conditioning

    Skin conditioning ingredients work by lubricating the surface of the skin to improve the appearance of the skin. Many skin conditioning agents also have humectant properties, which means that the ingredient draws moisture to the top layers of the skin. The skin-conditioning effects of ethylhexylglycerin are due to its derivation from glycerol. Glycerol is a natural alcohol and humectant that’s been used in skincare products for centuries, says Dr. Wendy Bollinger Bollag, cell physiologist. In research published in The Journal of Investigative Dermatology, she and co-author Dr. Xiangjian Zheng demonstrated that glycerin helps skin to look and function better by helping skin cells mature properly. Glycerin is not just a humectant but also an occlusive moisturizer as well. This means that while it softens skin, it also pulls water from the environment and helps prevent transepidermal water loss (TEWL) or moisture loss from the skin.

    Ethylhexylglycerin has also been found to improve the feel of cosmetic formulations. Tests have shown that ethylhexylglycerin can reduce the tackiness and greasiness of a formulation, as well as increase the speed of penetration

Is Ethylhexylglycerin vegan?

Given that ethylhexylglycerin can be produced from either animal-based fat or vegetable oils it really depends on the product. Most sources of ethylhexylglycerin use vegetable oils as they tend to be less expensive and stay fresh for longer, however check with the company as to where they source their ethylhexylglycerin if it doesn’t specify either way. 

Is Ethylhexylglycerin safe?

The safety of ethylhexylglycerin was assessed by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel in 2011. Based on the available animal toxicity and clinical data, including the low dermal absorption, the CIR Expert Panel concluded that ethylhexylglycerin is safe for its approved uses and concentration

It is important to note that ethylhexylglycerin can be a mild skin and eye irritant; this is particularly important for sensitive skin types and those who are prone to contact dermatitis. According to Cosmetics Info, undiluted ethylhexylglycerin is an eye irritant, while a 5% concentration only causes mild eye irritation. Two studies have found ethylhexylglycerin to be a skin irritant, even at low concentrations: A Belgian research by the Department of Dermatology at the University Hospital and a study in the journal Contact Dermatitis. Thus, those with sensitive skin may want to avoid ethylhexylglycerin due to the potential of contact dermatitis. In terms of pregnancy, it is always best to consult your doctor about the products you are using to determine whether they are suitable during pregnancy. 

References:
Langsrud, S, Steinhauer, K, Lüthje, S, Weber, K, Goroncy-Bermes, P & Holck, A, 2016. ‘Ethylhexylglycerin Impairs Membrane Integrity and Enhances the Lethal Effect of Phenoxyethanol’ PLOS One.
Sasseville, D & Stanciu, M, 2014. “Allergic Contact Dermatitis from Ethylhexylglycerin in Sunscreens, Dermatitis, vol. 25, is. 1, pp.42-43.
Johnson, W et al. ‘Safety Assessment of Alkyl Glyceryl Esthers as Used in Cosmetics’, International Journal of Toxicology, vol 32, pp. 5-21

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