Dr. Becky Maes - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Becky Maes

Is BHT Bad For You?

Also Known As: Butylated hydroxytoluene, dibutylhydroxytoluene



Short answer

Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) is bad for the human body because of its prevalence in everyday consumer goods. Additionally, this substance has a compound effect in the body and its vital systems, due to the body’s inability to rapidly remove it through normal metabolic excretion.



Long answer

Butylated hydroxytoluene is an organic compound more commonly known as BHT. Chemically, it is a derivative of phenol and is beneficial for its antioxidant properties.  BHT is a common food additive used to preserve freshness and help get our food to the table without an unpalatable change in color or taste.

BHT occurs naturally when it is produced by plankton, and can also be manufactured in a laboratory setting.  The chemical compound acts similarly to a synthetic form of vitamin E, suppressing the automatic oxidation process.  Oxidation can be blamed for making sliced apples turn brown and oils in food rancid.

The most common use for BHT is as a preservative in the food industry in the US.  It has been generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) based on a 1979 study using rats and mice. It’s also allowed in most European countries, but not permissible for use as a food additive in Japan, Romania, Sweden, and Australia. Many US food corporations have voluntarily removed it from their ingredients; some are now phasing it out of their products.

Although the National Cancer Institute found BHT to be non-carcinogenic in 1979, today there is debate regarding BHT and its potential link to cancer, asthma, and behavioral issues in children. Recent studies resulted in conflicting data. There has been a causative effect noted between BHT and hormonal disruption in human fetuses, namely on the thyroid and testes. Due to the uncertainty, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer group, recommends avoiding BHT and has added it to their “caution” list.

Some studies -- those that are conducted on rats and mice over a long period of time -- indicate that BHT has the potential for accumulation in the body.  These chronic studies link this build-up of chemical preservatives to stomach and bladder cancer, liver damage, and tumor production. In sensitive mice, BHT exposure caused excessive inflammation.

There is less information regarding the risks of using BHT topically, but the Skin Deep environmental working group’s searchable database of toxic ingredients in cosmetics and personal care products lists BHT among ingredients as linked to cancer, allergies, biochemical or cellular changes, endocrine disruption, neurotoxicity, and developmental toxicity in fetal cells.

When applied topically, BHT stays on the skin or slowly passes through and does not produce a systemic response.  No skin irritation, sensitization, or photosensitization occurred. The final report by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review in 2002 ruled BHT was safe in cosmetics due to the low concentrations that are typically found in the products.

Several cosmetic companies offer products made from all natural ingredients.  These ingredients are actually edible (though not quite tasty).  You can buy products like this from Natural or Organic food market and stores.  Many people consider the chemicals that they put in their mouth, yet neglect the very same chemicals that are absorbed by their largest organ—the skin. 

Possible short-term side effects

  • allergies
  • inflammation

Possible long-term side effects

  • numerous types of cancer
  • asthma
  • adhd
  • liver lesions
  • tumor production
  • biochemical changes
  • cell mutation
  • endocrine disruption
  • neurotoxicity
  • fetal cell toxicity

Commonly found in

  • cereals
  • breads
  • crackers
  • snack foods
  • gum
  • pet food
  • make-up
  • lotions
  • soap


  • food preservative
  • skin care/make-up additive

Healthier alternatives

  • purchasing foods and skin care products absent of the preservative via natural/organic markets

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by DeeAnne Oldham
Published on: 03-07-2016
Last updated: 12-10-2016

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by DeeAnne Oldham
Published on: 03-07-2016
Last updated: 12-10-2016

Random Page

Check These Out!