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Whether you know it or not, caprylyl glycol, a mouthful of an ingredient, is probably in a good amount of the skincare products you’re already using—and you probably don't even know why. An alcohol derived from a fatty acid (more on that in a minute), caprylyl glycol is a humectant—a hydrating ingredient that works by attracting water to and holding it in the skin. (Other, more widely-known humectants include hyaluronic acid and glycerin.) Unlike those more popular options however, caprylyl glycol also has preservative-like properties, which is why formulators seeking to increase the shelf life of their products often use it. While it’s not necessarily an ingredient you need to seek out on its own, it’s at least nice to know what it’s doing and how it’s working, particularly given that it's found in such a wide and varied array of products. Ahead, dermatologist Dan Belkin, MD, of Laser Skin & Surgery Center of New York, dermatologist Sapna Palep, MD, of Spring Street Dermatology in New York City, and Sheel Desai Solomon, MD, a dermatologist in Raleigh-Durhamn, North Carolina explain just that.
Type of ingredient: Moisturizer
Main benefits: Attracts water to and holds it in the skin, but also has preservative-like properties that can help prevent other ingredients from spoiling and extend the shelf life of the product, says Palep. It also helps products spread and absorb more easily into skin, says Belkin.
Who should use it: Generally speaking, it works well for all skin types, especially those looking to keep their skin smooth and moisturized.
How often you can use it: This is largely dependent on the product within your regimen that contains capryl glycol in the formula, says Solomon. Generally speaking, moisturizers and lotions can be used throughout the day, but in case there's another active ingredient in there that may cause irritation with multiple uses, the safest thing is to follow particular product instructions.
Works well with: It is often used with other ingredients known to hydrate the skin, such as honey, aloe, and hyaluronic acid, says Solomon.
Don't use with: As a rule, it can be used with most other ingredients.
What is Caprylyl Glycol?
Caprylyl glycol is an alcohol derived from caprylic acid, which is found naturally found in palm and coconut oils. Formulators love it for a few different reasons: One, it improves the spreadability and ultimately the feel of a product on your skin. Two, because it's antimicrobial, and it has preservative-like properties, says Belkin. “It is a multifunctional cosmetic ingredient that can replace traditional preservatives, such as parabens or formaldehyde releasers,” he says. Similarly, it actually makes other preservatives work better; caprylyl glycol has been shown to increase the antimicrobial activity of other preservatives, says Palep. As such, it "acts as a stabilizer to boost shelf life and helps prevent other ingredients from spoiling," says Palep.
Benefits of Caprylyl Glycol for Skin
While cosmetic chemists love the ingredient for its formulation benefits, the benefits to skin are limited. Caprylyl glycol is a humectant, meaning it's a substance that helps the skin retain water. "Humectants are used in the formulation of lotions, moisturizers, and cleansers in order to help lock in moisture," explains Solomon. "This is important to prevent dry skin while also slowing down signs of aging. As the skin loses moisture, we begin to see more lines, wrinkles, and sagging. Using skincare products with caprylyl glycol can help attract moisture to the skin, resulting in a smoother, softer complexion with decreased wrinkles and a more plump appearance."
Side Effects of Caprylyl Glycol
The biggest potential drawback is irritation, though that is most likely to occur when used at a very high concentration. Generally speaking, in most products, caprylyl glycol is diluted enough to not cause any issues, notes Belkin. The Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel has assessed this ingredient as safe. It's also considered safe to use during pregnancy and breastfeeding, according to Solomon.
How to Use It
Since this is more of a supporting actor rather than protagonist, don’t let it dictate how you’re using a product. In other words, usage should be based on the more active ingredients in a product, rather than this add-on. Your best bet? Follow the directions of the product you're using.
The Best Products With Caprylyl Glycol
"This moisturizing renewal cream contains glycolic acid, along with shea butter and oils," says Palep. She adds that it's a great exfoliator, but, because it has those hydrating ingredients, won't dry out skin. Still, it's best reserved for those with normal to dry complexions and who aren't prone to acne.
Solomon recommends this mega-moisturizing mask: "It's a hydrating heavy hitter boasting hyaluronic acid, aloe, and caprylyl glycol to seal in moisture," she says. Plus, it also smooths the appearance of fine lines, all while gently brightening and evening out your complexion, she points out. FYI, it's also available in a set with the brand's Mega Greens Galaxy Pack, a duo Byrdie editors think delivers spa-like results.
If we've said it once, we've said it ten thousand times: You must, must, must wear a sunscreen with broad-spectrum protection (at least an SPF 30), 365 days per year. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. Solomon recommends this daily option, which she likes for the addition of soothing hydrators and mineral sunscreen that make it ideal for sensitive complexions.
This ceramide- and squalane-rich moisturizer with alpha and beta hydroxy acids helps treat pores, wrinkles, and refine texture, says Palep, who adds that it also works well for all skin types. We're big fans of the fact that it pulls double-duty, simultaneously gently exfoliating (thank you, acids) while also leaving skin silky smooth and hydrated. Try it if you, like Byrdie editors, are a fan of the cult-classic peel pads from this brand.
Solomon likes that this single-use sheet mask is infused with hydrating coconut water, hyaluronic acid, and cucumber extract. It also touts antioxidants to leave your complexion glowy, and the bio-cellulose material hugs and sticks well to your face, so there's no need to worry about it slipping and sliding.
Dealing with super duper, almost painfully dry skin? Solomon suggests reaching for this intense treatment. Deeply nourishing for chronically dry, dehydrated skin, it helps replenish natural moisture levels, protecting your skin against all kinds of environmental saboteurs, she says. Think harsh weather, pollution, you name it. Also nice: It contains no artificial fragrance or color.
"This moisturizes, restores, replenishes, and calms the skin," says Solomon of this mask from the buzz-worthy brand. Credit all kinds of humectants—glycerin, hyaluronic acid, and caprylyl glycol included—among a long list of other moisturizing ingredients. Use it as a mask and tissue off after about 20 minutes (no rinsing need), in lieu of night cream a few times per week, or before a flight as a way to help keep skin from getting dehydrated while you're up in the air.
Hon KL, Kung JSC, Ng WGG, Leung TF. Emollient treatment of atopic dermatitis: latest evidence and clinical considerations. Drugs Context. 2018;7:212530. doi:10.7573/dic.212530
Cosmetic Ingredient Review. Caprylyl glycol.