What is it? Polybutene is a rich, non-drying emollient that is a fantastic lubricant and gloss-boosting ingredient. It’s vegan, stable, crystal clear, and doesn’t smell like anything.
INCI Polybutene
Appearance Crystal clear liquid. Viscosities of different polybutene products can vary; mine is from TKB Trading and it’s extremely thick.
Usage rate The CIR has not stated an upper allowable limit. Given how sticky polybutene is, the desired consistency of your final product will dictate how much you’ll want to use. I’ve used it at 20–70% in lip products.

Table 3 in the CIR Safety Assessment of Polyene Group as Used in Cosmetics lists “Frequency (2014) and concentration of use (2013) according to duraction and type of exposure for polyene ingredients”. A maximum concentration of 82.4% for leave-on products and 20% for rinse off is listed for polybutene (this lower rinse-off level is likely due to it being very difficult to rinse off). These numbers are not legal limits, but the range of concentrations observed in formulations containing polybutene.

“Repeated insult patch tests of 3.1–50% polybutene in formulations produced, at most, minimal irritation in a small percentage of the test population. The products testing produced no irritation or sensitization.” (Source: CIR Safety Assessment of Polyene Group as Used in Cosmetics)

Texture Glossy and sticky; imagine if honey was also water repellent!
Scent None
Absorbency Speed Extremely slow
Solubility Polybutene mixes well with Hydrogenated Polyisobutene, liquid oils, and esters.
Why do we use it in formulations? Polybutene adds gorgeous, cushiony richness to lip formulations, making them feel more expensive and substantial.
Do you need it? If you love formulating high-end lip products I’d say it’s a must. If not, you probably won’t miss it.
Refined or unrefined? Polybutene only exists as a refined product.
Strengths I love the expensive, substantial feel it adds to lip formulations.
Weaknesses I’ve only found it for sale at TKB Trading.

Even though the poybutene I have is very viscous, it doesn’t work for suspending ingredients like coloured micas, pigments, and dyes. They’ll settle out pretty quickly.

Alternatives & Substitutions You’ll need to begin by determining why polybutene is being called for in a formulation.

If it’s being used as a rich emollient in a skincare product, I think Lanolin, Brassica Campestris Aleurites Fordi Oil Copolymer, or Lecithin might work as an alternative.

Hydrogenated Polyisobutene is not a good alternative. Polybutene is quite different from Hydrogenated Polyisobutene—the primary ingredient in Versagel® ME 750. Straight Hydrogenated Polyisobutene is a much thinner liquid that doesn’t have the same tacky richness that polybutene does. The two ingredients are lovely when paired, but they aren’t interchangeable.

Versagel® ME 750 can work if you’re using polybutene to add richness to a lip oil formulation. Versagel® ME 750 isn’t as rich feeling as polybutene, but I have seen many lip oils that use Versagel® ME 750 for richness and structure, so it’s definitely possible! You may need to do some re-formulating rather than doing a straight one-for-one swap; you might consider adding some lanolin to get a bit of the tacky richness you’ll be missing from the polybutene.

How to Work with It Polybutene is really thick, slow-moving, and sticky, so be patient and be careful!

This ingredient can be hot or cold processed, though the data sheet from TKB recommends not heating it, and keeping it below 120°C if you do. It’s oil soluble, so whatever you’re making needs an oil phase.

Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry, polybutene should last at least 3 years.
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks Mix polybutene with a liquid oil you love to create a rich, shiny, long-wearing lip oil!

You can find polybutene in popular formulations like Pat McGrath Labs lipsticks, Tower 28 Beauty Jelly Lip Glosses, Sephora Lip Gloss, Jaclyn Hill’s Lip Oil, and Essence Cosmetic’s Lip Oil.

Recommended starter amount 100g (3.5oz)
Where to Buy it  Buy it from an online DIY ingredient supplier or Amazon.

Some Formulations that Use Polybutene


Posted on

August 19, 2022