Isopropyl Myristate

In a typical lab you don’t often get much time to just play around.  But you snatch the odd moment to indulge yourself from time to time, and I always enjoy spreading the emollient oils on my skin to get to know their individual characters and personalities.  One long standing favourite is isopropyl myristate which has a soft silky feeling, a bit reminiscent of velvet.

It gets used quite often in skin creams, particularly premium high quality ones.  I have to say that if I am honest I have never really felt that it actually contributes as much to these formulations as it promises to from how it feels neat. Where it really scores is in bath oil formulations.  I am a busy man and I usually take a shower to save time, but every now and again I’ll enjoy a bath with a bath oil rich in isopropyl myristate.

Chemically speaking it is a branched ester.  All this means is that the molecule is made up of chains that branch out and that it has a particular kind of chemical link called an ester link.  There is a whole family of branched esters, notably isopropyl palmitate which is similar to isopropyl myristate and which some formulators prefer.   I like them both and I particularly like having a choice.  Sometimes you see formulations where quite a few branched esters have been used.  In this case it is probable that somebody somewhere has gone to a lot of trouble blending different oils to get exactly the skin feel that they wanted.

Isopropyl myristate is perfectly safe as a cosmetic ingredient and there are no issues with it as far as end users are concerned.  It has been attacked by scaremongers either from ignorance or more likely from a cynical desire to sell inferior products at high prices.  Any website that suggests this material is harmful should be ignored.

There is one persistent story that keeps coming up, and that is that isopropyl myristate is comedogenic.  This issue dates back decades and should have been cleared up years ago.  Comedogenic is an ugly word and I would be a lot happier if we used plain english.  If you are suggesting that something causes blackheads, it is a lot easier to understand if you just say so.  But back to my story.  During the sixties several labs worked to try and use tests done on animals to help study skin diseases.  This blog is about science not ethics so I won’t comment on the rights or wrongs of the morality.  But it has to be said that the science wasn’t great.  Rabbit ears were the focus of the study, but for what it showed they might as well have left the rabbits in peace. The problem was that there was very poor agreement between labs even on the results of the tests let alone the interpretation of them.  Isopropyl myristate was shown by some labs to be comedogenic to rabbits ears.  Others got the opposite.  And as to whether this meant that it would cause comedogens in humans, well that was far from clear either.  It turned into one of those areas of research where the more papers you read the less you understood wht was going on.  What I can say is that I have had plenty of isopropyl myristate on my skin over the years and it has never given me a single blackhead.

So all in all, a lovely raw material.

  • Anonymous

    So is that what “comedogenic” means, that it gives you blackheads?

    • http://colinsbeautypages.co.uk Colins

      Yes.  But you have to admit, comedogenic sounds much worse.

  • http://soapendipity.blogspot.com Melissa Jensen

    I have only recently started using this in my lotions and I love it! My recipe was already pretty good, but it made it so much better. 

  • Rich Summers

    We all have our favourites. My two are Isononyl Isononanoate ( nice feel and I just love saying the name, sad aren’t I… ? ) and Myristyl Lactate, a skin temperature melting ester that has a really nice silky skin feel ( and if I may be so bold, much better than IPM……… !? )

    • http://colinsbeautypages.co.uk Colin

      Isononyl isononanoate always puts me in mind of Shakespeare.

      ‘It’s of a lover and his lass, with an Isononyl isononanoate
      That o’er the green corn fields did pass in Springtime
      In Springtime
      Sweet lovers love the Spring.

      • Zoe

        As a member of the general public and not a scientist, I lament that skincare marketing doesn’t use copy like this to sell products. Instead we are stuck with nonsense like “all natural” :)

  • Anonymous

    Interesting. I have a bottle on my shelf but have never used it. Since you like it in a bath oil, would it also be nice in a shower gel?

  • Anonymous

    Interesting. I have a bottle on my shelf but have never used it. Since you like it in a bath oil, would it also be nice in a shower gel?

  • Anonymous

    Interesting. I have a bottle on my shelf but have never used it. Since you like it in a bath oil, would it also be nice in a shower gel?

  • Anonymous

    Interesting. I have a bottle on my shelf but have never used it. Since you like it in a bath oil, would it also be nice in a shower gel?

  • Anonymous

    Interesting. I have a bottle on my shelf but have never used it. Since you like it in a bath oil, would it also be nice in a shower gel?

  • Anonymous

    Interesting. I have a bottle on my shelf but have never used it. Since you like it in a bath oil, would it also be nice in a shower gel?

  • Anonymous

    Hi…can anyone tell me if the silicate of magnesia is actually very dangerous as it is purported to be???

  • http://scatterbrainadventures.blogspot.com/ Rae

    And hey, Retin A has isopropyl myristate. ANd it helped remove my blackheads.

  • Juli

    I found out I was intolerant to this ingredient. It’s not for everyone. I’m glad there are brands who don’t use it

  • Annie

    “What I can say is that I have had plenty of isopropyl myristate on my
    skin over the years and it has never given me a single blackhead.”

    Hm, this is kind of against the title of your page “Information based on scientific facts”….
    I have smoked for years, and it has never given ME lungcancer….

    No, serious now. I’m also a scientist and very happy to find a page that is not full of missleading and unscientific blabber.

    But after fighting acne for 15 years, I find that comment not helpful. It is in the same category as “why don’t you just wash your face twice a day?” You are probably the lucky category of people who never got a clogged pore after finishing high school. When you don’t have acne, testing on yourself is not a good reference… There are lots of people who smoke weed, but in the unlucky ones with a predisposition to schizophrenia it can trigger a psychosis.

    Well, anyway, I will look for the original papers and judge for myself.

    • http://colinsbeautypages.co.uk/ Colin

      Best of luck with your research Annie, and I am sure I am not the only one who would be interested to know how you get on.  

      If you haven’t started yet, can I suggest this review paper by Howard Maibach is a good place to begin.

      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17687685

      I think you have maybe taken my penultimate sentence out of context.  I had just pointed out that the scientific  literature on the subject is contradictory and confusing, so I it wasn’t really holding up my personal experience as the benchmark, and it wasn’t intended as a post specifically about acne either.  I don’t think that anyone has ever looked systematically at whether isopropyl myristate makes the symptoms of acne for people who already suffer from it worse.  That would be interesting to know.  Whether it can trigger the condition in people who don’t suffer from it is a different question, but again I don’t think there is any direct evidence that it can do so.  But if the weight of the evidence changes then we all might have to rethink.

  • Timmirz

    Hi, your site is very good, I really enjoy it.
    Regarding the above piece can you comment on this opinion “Isopropyl myristate is a solvent that dries the skin and hair, and creates cracks and fissures in the skin, which encourage bacterial growth.”

    • http://twitter.com/beautyscientist beautyscientist

      No it isn’t.

  • Zoe

    Thank you for this post. I was considering buying a small amount of IPM to blend with oils for my own use. i have read that it adds a less oily skin feel so to speak. But I wasn’t sure if the undiluted compound was safe for skin, just because I am a klutz and I’m sure I’ll spill at least a little. So thanks for this info.