Butyloctyl salicylate is a common skincare ingredient in sunscreen that I hadn’t learned much about until this year, after I suddenly developed perioral dermatitis and wanted to begin using mineral sunscreens. Mineral sunscreens are sunscreens typically recommended to those with sensitive skin conditions such as rosacea, because they tend to be less irritating than sunscreens with chemical filters.
Over the past few months, I’ve discovered that butyloctyl salicylate is actually a chemical filter featured in many so-called ‘mineral’ formulas. In this post, we’ll discuss what butyloctyl salicylate is in more detail, how it’s used and why it’s used in mineral formulas without being disclosed more obviously.
Butyloctyl salicylate is an ingredient often found in sunscreens that is used to ‘bump up’ the SPF rating of a sunscreen.
Creating a new SPF is a particularly expensive, difficult and often time consuming process. This is why most new skincare brands develop an SPF later on in their line, because it’s much harder than a moisturiser, for example!
Often when a brand creates a sunscreen, they have to mix together a variety of UV filters to see how high of an SPF they will create together. If you look at the back of your sunscreen packaging, you’ll often see it contains a few different UV filters in an attempt to create a high and broad spectrum (UVA and UVB) sun protection factor.
Lastly, we all know how difficult finding a sunscreen with an enjoyable texture is, and mineral sunscreens are infamous for having awful, chalky textures. Butyloctyl salicylate in skincare gives a product a much smoother, silkier feeling, which is another reason we see it added to mineral formulas. You’ll likely find that your favourite mineral SPFs all contain it, because they create a much more enjoyable finish.
The big question is why is this ingredient in mineral sunscreens at all, if it is simply not a mineral filter? Why is it allowed to be undisclosed?
One of my personal favourite blogs is LabMuffin’s, and she goes into a lot of nitty gritty detail on ‘sunscreen law’ in her post. Essentially in cosmetic science, butyloctyl salicylate is considered and marketed to be more of an ‘spf booster’, and is not yet officially registered as sunscreen active. You might ask – why not? The answer is quite shocking, and it is simply because no-one has yet begun or completed the long process of registering it as an SPF active, and nobody has done anything about this.
Once you’ve realised how common the ingredient is in so many sunscreens, you’ll begin to realise we’ve likely all been using it for a very long time.
It can be scary to hear that you’re using a sunscreen active that is going completely under the radar simply due to some admin that’s not been done properly.
Whilst butyloctyl salicylate is not a registered sunscreen active, it is still a widely utilised ingredient, it’s just not made its way into the ‘sunscreen’ arena yet, despite it boosting SPF ratings. This means that, like with any ingredient, there are recommendations to skincare manufacturers on how much should be used. Currently the recommendation for butyloctyl salicylate stands at 2-10%. The problem lies that this is simply a recommendation, and where it is an SPF booster, brands may be using more than this to increase the SPF of their product.
If you’re wondering whether I use this ingredient or products containing it, the short answer is yes. At the moment I don’t see much evidence to stop me, and like most people I struggle to find SPFs I actually like, so if I find one that I love, this is unlikely going to stop me unless evidence is published to suggest it is unsafe.
There are some known allergies to salicylates (any ingredient ending in ‘salicylate’) since not everyone gets on with chemical filters – in fact I believe a lot of people don’t, and they simply don’t realise it’s a reaction to the filters themselves. If you believe you have this allergy, you can simply look on the back of the packaging and avoid products with these.
Finding sunscreen for super sensitive skin, such as sunscreen for rosacea, is also challenging, but doesn’t necessarily mean you are sensitive to salicylates – everyone is (annoyingly) unique!
My suggestion to you is to stay aware when brands market their ‘100% mineral sunscreen’ and make your own decision about the ingredient, as most likely it isn’t the ‘100%’ they guarantee.