BHT: The Stabilizing Skincare Ingredient You've Never Heard Of

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In the skincare world, there are a few ingredients that are considered universal favorites, such as AHAs, BHAs, and hyaluronic acid. While those particular examples are pretty much loved across the board, there are, of course, many more ingredients that happen to fly under the radar. Take BHT, for example. It's an essential component of many skincare products, but it isn't exactly a household name.


Whether or not you are aware of what BHT is and what it does in your favorite skincare products, there's a chance you've crossed paths with the additive. What's more, it's something of a divisive component. Like any skincare ingredient, you need to ensure that any product that you apply to your face is not only safe but compatible with your skin. Any ingredient that goes against your skin's sensitivity will create adverse skin reactions. Although less mainstream, BHT is vital in all of the skincare products it's included in.

What is BHT?

Simply put, BHT is an ingredient that is added to skincare goods to boost shelf life. BHT, which is short for butylated hydroxytoluene, can help keep your products from totally oxidizing and changing after they've been exposed to air, according to L'Oréal Groupe. The BHT in skincare products is not naturally found but synthetically made. A bona fide preservative, BHT makes skincare products not only last longer but keeps them from losing their typical textures, smells, and so on. BHT is a fat-soluble ingredient, and while the BHT that's in skincare products is produced in a laboratory, it has been found in freshwater plants


Because BHT has been used for years in cosmetics, there is plenty of research surrounding its usage, effectiveness, and safety in your skincare products. However, some studies have shown that there might be more to consider when it comes to including BHT in skincare.

What does BHT do?

The role of BHT in skincare is fairly simple: protect and maintain active ingredients in your skincare products. As Paula's Choice notes, the human-made preservative is utilized in makeup and food, too. You'll most likely find BHT in skincare products that contain sensitive ingredients that need an extra layer of protection to keep them stable and active.


The Derm Review adds that BHT can also be used to keep the free radicals at bay, which is a big deal given that free radicals can be harmful to the skin. As New York City-based dermatologist Dr. Sejal Shah explained to Today, "In order to stabilize themselves, free radicals try to bond to other atoms or molecules. This process results in oxidative stress which can damage DNA and other parts of the cell." Like vitamin E, BHT is an ingredient that ensures you can use your products for a prolonged amount of time without having to worry about them losing potency. Because of BHT's characteristics, it can be added to many products as it can withstand high temperatures and is a relatively inexpensive way to up a product's life span. BHT is not an active ingredient itself and won't add any nutrients or minerals to the skin.


Is BHT safe for the skin?

Like any new ingredient you introduce to your daily routine, it's reasonable to wonder if it's safe to be used on your skin. BHT has been included in skincare products for several decades, and there's been a lot of research regarding the impact of BHT on your skin over the years. While there have been some questions about whether or not BHT should be used in various products, a number of studies have shown that BHT is okay to include in skincare products. The concentration level makes all the difference; it's important to stick to the small amounts approved by scientists and researchers. As noted by The Cosmetic Chemist, the typical concentration range of BHT in cosmetics falls between 0.0001% and 0.5% and isn't enough to get into the bloodstream. 


There are also concerns about BHT potentially causing skin irritation or reaction related to allergy. ​​It is always recommended to perform a patch test before using any new product containing BHT, particularly if you have sensitive or reactive skin. It's also important to follow the brand's application instructions. Any ingredient used in excess can wind up being more harmful than helpful to the skin.

The controversy surrounding BHT

Although research has shown BHT to be relatively safe for your skin when the concentration is just right, it's still a controversial ingredient. Campaign for Safe Cosmetics explains that while BHT has been approved for use in food, cosmetics, and personal care products, some studies have suggested that it may have potential health risks when consumed or applied in high amounts. One concern is that BHT may be an endocrine disruptor, which means it may interfere with the normal functioning of hormones in the body and impact various organs. Other studies have found that BHT may have estrogenic effects, which could potentially increase the risk of hormone-related cancers. To prevent any dangerous side effects, regulation agencies prohibit companies from using BHT beyond its designated range.


Even though many of these studies are concentrated on the effects of BHT when consumed, there are side effects that can occur when applying BHT via skincare products. BHT could cause skin irritation, redness, itching, or hives in some individuals. It may also cause respiratory symptoms such as wheezing, coughing, or shortness of breath in individuals with certain sensitivities. While further research is still required to make a determination on the safety of BHT, this ingredient is found to be generally safe while used in cosmetic and skincare products.

Where you can find BHT

BHT is included in all sorts of household products — after all, many household products are made up of ingredients that need a preservative agent to help extend shelf life. In the skincare and beauty world, you can easily find BHT in moisturizers, lip glosses, lotions, creams, shampoos, and conditioners. Typically, products with BHT also feature potent skincare-related ingredients that are meant to deliver extra powerful results.


According to Inci Decoder, other products that contain BHT are serums and sunscreens. In sunscreen, BHT is used to prevent the breakdown of UV filters and maintain the stability of the formula. In skincare serums, BHT prevents the degradation of active ingredients, such as vitamin C or retinol. Apart from skincare, BHT can be food in various food items as it can help preserve the flavors and dyes over time. However, due to the many studies detailing the potential dangers of BHT when ingested, some companies have opted to remove BHT from their products.

Should you keep using BHT or find an alternative?

Despite its approval by the FDA, many might find it uncomfortable to continue to use BHT in their skincare products. Although many brands still include this ingredient in their products, there are safe alternatives you can search for to maintain your products stable and keep your skin safe. As Million Marker explains, natural antioxidants that feature similar properties as BHT are rosemary extract, vitamin C, and vitamin E. Those alternatives are natural antioxidants that are commonly used in skincare products to prevent the oxidation of various ingredients and improve the stability of the formula. As Kim Chang of the Baylor College of Medicine notes, vitamin C is proven to be a powerful antioxidant that can help brighten the skin, reduce hyperpigmentation, and protect against environmental damage.


Of course, whether or not you use products that contain BHT is ultimately up to you. When utilized correctly and responsibly, BHT is a safe chemical preservative that can help maintain the lifespan of your favorite skincare products. But if you're not into it, you can always explore the natural antioxidants and alternatives that may provide further skin benefits (but keep in mind that they may reduce the lifespan of your products).