If you make a habit of reading the ingredient lists on your skin care products (never a bad idea), you might see some of the same ingredients again and again.
Depending on your products, caprylyl glycol might be one of those ingredients.
Wondering exactly what it is, and what role it plays in skin care?
New York City dermatologist Dr. Hadley King explains: “Caprylyl glycol is an alcohol derived from caprylic acid —a fatty acid found in the milk of some mammals, as well as palm and coconut oils.”
The caprylyl glycol in your skin care products may come from plants, but it could also be chemically produced. In either case, it’s a humectant, so you’ll usually find it in moisturizers, masks, and other products designed to hydrate your skin.
And although it’s an alcohol, don’t let that put you off. Caprylyl glycol comes from a fatty acid, so it’s not the kind of alcohol that can dry out your skin. In fact, it’s generally considered safe for most skin types.
Caprylyl glycol can benefit your skin in a few ways, though some of those benefits are more indirect.
It helps hydrate skin
Caprylyl glycol works as a humectant, which means it helps hydrate your skin, King explains. Humectants attract and retain moisture, while moisturizers help seal your skin’s surface so the moisture doesn’t evaporate.
Get more details on skin hydrators and moisturizers.
Attracting moisture and locking it into the skin can ultimately result in a plumper and smoother complexion.
It also works as a skin softener, or emollient, and helps support a healthy skin barrier.
Caprylyl glycol’s benefits don’t stop at your skin, either.
“The humectant and emollient properties make it a helpful moisturizing ingredient in hair conditioners,” King adds.
It helps your products last longer
Skin and hair care products themselves can also benefit from caprylyl glycol.
The ingredient works as a preservative, preventing bacteria from growing and spoiling the formula. This protects your skin and hair while also extending the life of your products.
It improves product texture
King explains caprylyl glycol can also help improve the texture of skin care products.
It makes formulas more spreadable, which allows you to apply them more evenly across your skin for better coverage.
You may have yet to notice caprylyl glycol on your ingredient lists, but it does show up in a wide variety of products.
You’ll often find it in:
- shampoos and conditioners
Basically, anything that aims to hydrate and condition could contain caprylyl glycol.
A 2012 assessment that the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel carried out concluded that caprylyl glycol is safe in the way it’s currently used.
Although caprylyl glycol could potentially cause some irritation, this seems less likely at lower concentrations. Right now, skin care products only contain low, diluted concentrations of caprylyl glycol. Older research suggests some formulas cause no skin sensitivity.
The panel of experts did note, though, that caprylyl glycol can enhance the penetration of certain products. In other words, it could potentially boost the ability of skin care products to reach deeper layers of skin. This could alter the effects of products not designed or tested for skin penetration. In some cases, it could even render them unsafe.
They recommended the beauty and skin care industries keep this in mind when developing new formulas.
The vast majority of people can safely use caprylyl glycol. King notes, though, that it’s possible to experience some skin irritation after using a product containing the ingredient.
She recommends always doing a patch test to check for sensitivity before using a new product on your face or body.
How to do a patch test
Apply a small amount of your chosen product to somewhere hidden, like behind your ear or the side of your neck.
Wait at least 48 hours to check for an adverse reaction, like redness, itching, or swelling.
No problems? Go ahead and start using the product.
Even after you pass the patch test, it’s never a bad idea to start slowly instead of rushing into daily use.
Gradually increasing your applications over time can help your skin get used to the new routine.
If you do notice any irritation or any other skin concerns, a healthcare professional, dermatologist, or other skin care expert can offer more guidance tailored to your specific skin care needs.
Caprylyl glycol probably features somewhere in your current stash of skin care products.
Not only does this common ingredient help with moisturizing, but it also extends the shelf life of products and makes them easier to apply.
If you do notice it, don’t sweat it — it’s considered safe for most people to use.
Lauren Sharkey is a U.K.-based journalist and author specializing in women’s issues. When she isn’t trying to discover a way to banish migraines, she can be found uncovering the answers to your lurking health questions. She has also written a book profiling young female activists across the globe and is currently building a community of such resisters. Catch her on Twitter.