Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT), known as E321, is a synthetic antioxidant commonly used in various industries, including food and cosmetics. While it is generally recognised as safe by regulatory agencies such as the FDA, recent studies have shed light on some health risks associated with its use. [1, 2, 3]
In this article, we will explore some astonishing health risks of BHT that will probably make you cringe.
Table of Contents
Where does Butylated Hydroxytoluene come from?
Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT) is a synthetic antioxidant that is derived from phenol. It was first patented in 1947 by the Gulf Research and Development Company and has since been used in a variety of industries, including cosmetics, food, and pharmaceuticals. [4, 5, 6]
BHT is typically produced through a chemical reaction between p-cresol (a derivative of phenol), isobutylene, and sulfuric acid. The resulting compound is then purified and crystallised to create the final product. 
How is Butylated Hydroxytoluene used Today?
Butylated Hydroxytoluene is a widely used synthetic antioxidant that is added to various products to prevent free radical-mediated oxidation. Here are some of the common uses of BHT today:
- Food Industry
- BHT is used as a food preservative to prevent spoilage and increase shelf life. It is added to a variety of processed foods, such as cereals, snacks, and baked goods, as well as fats and oils. 
- BHT is used in cosmetic products to maintain their properties and performance as they are exposed to air. It helps prevent a change in odor, color, and texture. 
- BHT is used as an antioxidant in some medications to prevent degradation and increase their shelf life. 
- Industrial Applications
- BHT is used in a variety of industrial applications, such as jet fuels, rubber, petroleum products, and electrical transformer oil, to prevent oxidation and degradation. 
- BHT, an antioxidant in packaging, may release trace amounts into food. Although concerns exist about its potential health impacts, current research and regulations indicate that BHT is safe at regulated levels. Continuous monitoring and improvement in packaging materials can further reduce potential risks. 
Despite its widespread use, there are concerns about the potential health risks associated with BHT exposure. Some studies have linked BHT to various health issues, including:
- Some studies have suggested that BHT may play a part in increasing carcinogenic risk factors. More on that a little later. However, more research is needed to confirm this link. 
- Hormone Disruption
- BHT has been shown to disrupt the endocrine system, which regulates hormones in the body. This can lead to a range of health issues, including reproductive problems and developmental delays in children. 
- Allergic Reactions
- Some people may be sensitive or allergic to BHT, which can cause skin irritation, hives, and other symptoms. 
While BHT is generally recognised as safe by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it is still important to be aware of the potential risks associated with its use. Consumers should read product labels carefully and consult with a healthcare provider if they have any concerns about BHT exposure.
Let’s dig into these a little deeper.
According to some Researchers, BHT has been associated with an increased risk of cancer. Meaning, the direct relationship between BHT and cancer is at this time unclear.
For example, a study published in 2022 suggested that it is not known to cause cancer by itself, but that there is some evidence that suggests that when it is combined with other chemicals that can cause cancer. BHT may increase the chances of cancer through mechanisms such as increasing mutagenicity. This is because BHT can make those cancer-causing chemicals stronger and more effective. 
While the evidence in humans is limited, it is concerning that a substance commonly used in food and personal care products may have, or even amplify carcinogenic properties.
Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT) has been linked to an increased risk of cancer. Studies have shown that BHT can cause tumor growth in animals, and while there is limited research on humans, there is concern that it could have similar effects in humans as well. [17, 18]
Although there are concerns about BHT arising from some studies, there seems to be a consistent alignment of BHA and BHT in many online resources where the results and data from BHA are conflated with BHT. Case in point being the popular belief that the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified BHT as a possible human carcinogen. 
Curiously, with references to ongoing cancer research coming from various sources, it makes getting to the bottom of the issue complicated. Commercial interests based on various evaluations of the effectiveness of BHT to treat AIDS and genital herpes also provide perspectives worth considering. [20, 21, 22]
If you have concerns, a wide berth may be the best choice if you still feel uncertain.
BHT has also been linked to endocrine disruption, albeit described as being weak, meaning it can interfere with the body’s hormonal balance. This can lead to a variety of health problems, including reproductive issues, developmental delays, and thyroid problems.
Studies have shown that BHT can mimic the effects of estrogen in the body, which can be particularly concerning for women. [14, 23]
Some people may be allergic to BHT, and exposure can lead to a range of symptoms, including hives, itching, and difficulty breathing. These reactions can be severe in some cases, and it is important to seek medical attention if you experience any symptoms after exposure to BHT. 
Overall, the potential health risks associated with BHT are concerning, and it is important to be aware of the potential dangers.
While BHT is commonly used as a preservative in many foods and personal care products, it is important to read labels carefully and avoid products that contain this ingredient if you are concerned about potential health risks.
5 Tips on Making Informed Choices with Butylated Hydroxytoluene
This compound that is often added to foods, cosmetics, and personal care products to preserve their freshness and extend their shelf life.
However, there are some health concerns associated with the use of BHT. To make informed choices about the products you use, here are five tips to keep in mind:
- Read Labels Carefully:
- When shopping for food or personal care products, be sure to read the labels carefully to see if they contain BHT. If so, consider choosing a different product that does not contain this compound if you have concerns.
- Choose Natural Products:
- Consider looking for products that are made with natural preservatives, such as vitamin E or rosemary extract, instead of synthetic compounds like BHT.
- Buy Fresh Foods:
- Whenever possible, choose fresh foods that do not require preservatives to stay fresh. This can include fruits, vegetables, and meats that are sold at local farmers’ markets or specialty stores.
- Avoid Processed Foods:
- Processed foods are often high in preservatives, including BHT. To reduce your exposure to this compound, try to limit your intake of processed foods and opt for whole, natural foods instead.
- Do Your Research:
- If you are unsure about the safety of a particular product or ingredient, do some research to learn more. Look for information from reputable sources you trust.
By following these tips, you can make more informed choices about the products you use and reduce your exposure to potentially harmful chemical preservatives and compounds like Butylated Hydroxytoluene.
What to do if you find your product contains Butylated Hydroxytoluene
If you discover that a product you have purchased contains Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT) and you are concerned about its possible health risks, there are several actions you can take to reduce your exposure to this compound.
Firstly, consider researching the product to learn more about BHT and its potential health risks. You can also contact the manufacturer to inquire about the level of BHT in the product and whether there are alternative products that do not contain BHT.
When shopping for food or personal care products, as mentioned in the section above, be sure to read the labels carefully and look for products that do not contain BHT or other synthetic compounds. Consider downloading the Yuka App as a handy reference tool.
If you have concerns about the products you are using, it’s best to consult with a healthcare provider or a specialist in environmental medicine who can advise you on how to minimize your exposure to BHT and other harmful chemicals. They may also suggest changes in your diet and lifestyle that can help reduce your risk of exposure.
Overall, taking an informed and proactive approach to managing your exposure to BHT is key. By being mindful of the products you use and the potential health risks associated with BHT, you can make healthier choices and take steps to protect yourself from harmful chemical compounds.
What is Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT)?
Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT) is a synthetic antioxidant that is commonly used in food, cosmetics, and pharmaceuticals to prevent oxidation and spoilage. It is also used as a fuel additive and in the production of rubber and plastics.
What are the health risks associated with BHT?
While the FDA has approved BHT for use in food and other products, there are some potential health risks associated with its use. Here are three health risks that may be worth keeping in mind:
• Cancer – Some studies have suggested that BHT may be a carcinogen, meaning it has the potential to cause cancer. Other studies suggest it may have applications in treating cancer too.
• Hormone Disruption – BHT has been shown to disrupt the endocrine system, which can lead to hormonal imbalances and other health problems.
• Allergic Reactions – Some people may be allergic to BHT and experience symptoms such as hives, itching, and swelling.
Is BHT banned in any Countries?
While BHT is generally considered safe for use in small amounts, it has been reported as having been banned in some countries. For example, reports online state that the European Union has banned BHT as a food additive, and Japan has banned it from being used in cosmetics. However, the status of some of these changes from time to time, and online reports are not always accurate. For example, reports that Australia and New Zeland have banned BHT outright are not accurate 
Should I avoid products that contain BHT?
While the potential health risks associated with BHT are concerning, it is important to remember that the FDA, and other Regulators, have approved its use in food and other products. If you are concerned about the use of BHT, you may want to limit your exposure by avoiding processed foods and choosing natural and organic products whenever possible.
Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT) is a synthetic antioxidant used in various industries, including food and cosmetics. Despite being recognised as safe by the FDA, recent studies have raised concerns about its potential health risks.
To minimise exposure to BHT, consumers can read product labels carefully, choose natural products, buy fresh foods, avoid processed foods, and research ingredients in products. By taking these steps, consumers can make more informed choices and reduce exposure to potentially harmful compounds like BHT.
Join the conversation and share your thoughts on Instagram or Pinterest.
- “Butylated Hydroxytoluene” – PubChem Staff, 26 March 2005 [PubChem] [Archive]
- “Scientific Opinion on the re-evaluation of butylated hydroxytoluene BHT (E 321) as a food additive” – EFSA Staff, 7 March 2012 [EFSA] [Archive]
- “CFR – Code of Federal Regulations Title 21” – FDA Staff, 17 March 2023 [FDA] [Archive]
- “Alkylation Of Phenols” – US Patent Office Staff, 7 October 1947 [US Patent Office] [Archive]
- “Alkylation Of Phenols” – Google Patents, Last Accesses 29 March 2023 [Google Patents] [Archive]
- “Aerial view of the Gulf Research and Development Company” – Pittsburgh Library Staff, Last Accesses 29 March 2023[Historic Pittsbugh] [Archive]
- “The Versatile BHT” – Oceanic Pharmachem Staff, 29 January 2017 [Oceanic Pharmachem] [Archive]
- “Preservatives – Keeping our foods safe & fresh” – E. Anderson, 6 May 2019 [Michigan State University] [Archive]
- “BHT” – L’Oréal Staff, Last Checked 1 April 2023 [L’Oréal] [Archive]
- “How can you ensure the preservation of your pharmaceutical products?” – Safic-Alcan Staff, Last Checked 1 April 2023 [Safic-Alcan] [Archive]
- “2,6-Di-tert-butyl-4-methylphenol” – T3DB Staff, 11 September 2014 [T3DB] [Archive]
- “Report FD 07/01 – An investigation into the reaction and breakdown products from starting substances used to produce food contact plastics” – E. Bradley, M. Driffield, S. Jones, M. Scotter, D. Speck, August 2007 [Food Packaging Forum] [Archive]
- “Analysis of the most appropriate risk management option (RMOA)” – ANSES Staff, March 2016 [ANSES] [Archive]
- “Endocrine disrupting effects of butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA – E320)” – A. Pop, B. Kiss, F. Loghin, 4 February 2013 [PubMed] [Archive]
- “Ask the Doctors – How common are allergies to BHT, a food preservative?” – R. Ashley, 8 June 2018 [UCLA Health] [Archive]
- “Toxicological Profile for 3,3’-Dichlorobenzidine” – Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (US), 2022 [PubMed] [Archive]
- “Enhancement by butylated hydroxytoluene of the in vitro activation of 3,3′-dichlorobenzidine” – A. Ghosal, M. M. Iba, January 1992 [PubMed] [Archive]
- “Modifying factors in urinary bladder carcinogenesis” – N. Ito, S. Fukushima, T. Shirai, K. Nakanishi, R. Hasegawa, K. Imaida, March 1983 [PubMed] [Archive]
- “Butylated hydroxyanisole: Carcinogenic food additive to be avoided or harmless antioxidant important to protect food supply?” – S. P. Felter, X. Zhang, C. Thompson, Date [Science Direct] [Archive]
- “Bioassay of Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT) for Possible Carcinogenicity” – U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, 1979 [NTP] [Archive]
- “Butylated Hydroxytoluene (Bht) – Uses, Side Effects, and More” – WebMD Staff, Last Checked 4 April 2023 [WebMD] [Archive]
- “Butylated Hydroxytoluene Market Size By Application…” – GMI Staff, September 2022 [GMI] [Archive]
- “Estrogenic and anti-estrogenic activity of butylparaben, butylated hydroxyanisole, butylated hydroxytoluene and propyl gallate and their binary mixtures on two estrogen responsive cell lines (T47D-Kbluc, MCF-7)” – A. Pop, T. Drugan, A. C. Gutleb, D. Lupu, J. Cherfan, F. Loghin, B. Kiss, February 2018 [ResearchGate] [Archive]
- “Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT)” – CDI Staff, Last Checked 4 April 2023 [CDI] [Archive]
- “Schedule 1 – Permitted uses of food additives by food type” – Food Standards, Last Checked 4 April 2023 [Food Standards] [Archive] [Food Standards Search] [Archive]
Last Updated on 2 months by D&C Editorial Team