What is caprylyl glycol? Uses, safety and more

If you get into the habit of reading ingredient lists on your skin care products (it’s never a bad idea), you might see some of the same ingredients over and over again.

Depending on your products, caprylyl glycol could be one of these ingredients.

Wondering what it is exactly and what role does it play in skin care?

New York dermatologist Dr Hadley King explains: “Caprylyl glycol is an alcohol derived from caprylic acid –a fatty acid found in the milk of certain mammals, as well as in palm and coconut oils.

The caprylyl glycol in your skin care products can come from plants, but it can also be produced chemically. Either way, it’s a humectant, so you’ll typically find it in moisturizers, masks, and other products designed to hydrate your skin.

And although it’s alcoholic, 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 several ways, although some of the benefits are more indirect.

It helps hydrate the skin

Caprylyl glycol acts like a humectant, which means it helps hydrate your skin, King explains. Humectants attract and hold moisture, while moisturizers help seal the surface of your skin so that moisture doesn’t evaporate.

Learn more about skin moisturizers and moisturizers.

Attracting moisture and locking it into the skin can ultimately result in a more plump, smoother complexion.

It also acts as a skin softener or emollient and helps maintain a healthy skin barrier.

The benefits of caprylyl glycol don’t stop with your skin, either.

“The moisturizing and emollient properties make it a useful moisturizing ingredient in hair conditioners,” King adds.

It helps your products last longer

The skin and hair care products themselves can also benefit from caprylyl glycol.

The ingredient acts as a preservative, preventing bacteria from growing and spoiling the formula. This protects your skin and hair while extending the life of your products.

It improves the texture of the product

King explains that caprylyl glycol can also help improve the texture of skin care products.

It makes the formulas more spread out, allowing you to apply them more evenly to your skin for better coverage.

You may not have noticed caprylyl glycol on your ingredient lists yet, but it does show up in a wide variety of products.

You will often find it in:

  • moisturizers
  • masks
  • cleansers
  • foundations
  • bronzers
  • lipstick
  • sun creams
  • shampoos and conditioners

Basically anything aimed at hydrating and conditioning could contain caprylyl glycol.

A 2012 review that the Expert Panel on Cosmetic Ingredients Review conducted concluded that caprylyl glycol is safe in the way it is currently used.

Although caprylyl glycol can potentially cause some irritation, this seems less likely at lower concentrations. Currently, skin care products contain only low, dilute concentrations of caprylyl glycol. Older research suggests that some formulas do not cause skin sensitivity.

The expert panel noted, however, that caprylyl glycol can improve the penetration of some products. In other words, it could potentially increase the ability of skin care products to reach the deeper layers of the skin. This could alter the effects of products not designed or tested for skin penetration. In some cases, this could even make them dangerous.

They recommended that 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, however, that it is possible to experience 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.

Even after passing the patch test, it’s never a bad idea to start slowly instead of rushing through everyday use.

Gradually increasing your applications over time can help your skin get used to the new routine.

If you to do If you notice any irritation or other skin problem, a healthcare professional, dermatologist, or other skin care expert can offer advice more tailored to your specific skin care needs.

Caprylyl glycol is probably listed somewhere in your current stash of skin care products.

Not only does this common ingredient help moisturize, but it also extends the shelf life of products and makes them easier to apply.

If you notice it, don’t worry, it is considered safe for most people.


Lauren Sharkey is a UK-based journalist and author specializing in women’s issues. When she’s not trying to figure out a way to banish migraines, she can be found finding the answers to your health questions that lurk in your face. She has also written a book presenting young activists around the world and is building a community of these resistance fighters. Catch her Twitter.


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