Label.ology - Butylated Hydroxyanisole /Butylated Hydroxytoluene

In this feature, we’re taking labels apart.


It’s important to understand all the stuff that’s in what you buy. Then and only then can you can decide if you want it in your food, on your body or in your home.

So I decided to put all my years of label reading to good use.

Why label.ology? Well, the definition of ‘-ology’, that’s why: “the scientific study of a particular subject.”

It’s amazing to me how ingredients we might not want to consume are cloaked in complicated names; and with nutrition panels that read like a Russian novel, you have to be a detective to decipher what’s in your food.

Not anymore! I give you…label.ology

Butylated Hydroxyanisole /Butylated Hydroxytoluene

Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) and butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) are preservatives that prevent oils in food from becoming rancid. You'll also find it in cosmetics, jet fuel, rubber and…wait for it…embalming fluid.


BHA and BHT are used as preservatives in a variety of personal care products (lip products, hair products, makeup, sunscreen, antiperspirant/deodorant, fragrance, lotions) and are linked to several health concerns including endocrine disruption and organ-system toxicity, and due to these concerns BHA has been banned for use in cosmetics in the European Union.

With health concerns like endocrine disruption, organ-system toxicity, developmental and reproductive toxicity, cancer, irritation, allergies and immune-toxicity and bioaccumulation in tissue.

The European Commission on Endocrine Disruption has determined that there is strong evidence that BHA is a human endocrine disruptor, and has banned its use in cosmetics. The European Commission classified BHA as a known human toxicant on the EU Banned and Restricted Fragrances list, and the Environment Canada Domestic Substance List has classified BHA as a high human health priority. A study carried out in normal mammalian kidney cells found that exposure to BHA caused specific damage at the cellular level and was found to exert a significant cytotoxic effect even at low doses. The Environment Canada Domestic Substance List has classified BHT as expected to be toxic or harmful. A safety assessment of BHT reported that BHT applied to the skin of rats was associated with toxic effects in lung tissue, but judged that the low concentrations used in cosmetics were safe .

The National Toxicology Program (NTP) Report on Carcinogens, 12th Edition, reports that BHA is reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen based on sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity from animal studies. The California EPA’s Proposition 65 list also identifies BHA as a possible human carcinogen and requires labeling for products that are used on the lips, while the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) determined that there was only limited evidence of carcinogenicity for products used on the lips. One study found that dietary exposure to BHA caused both benign and malignant tumors in the stomachs of rats, mice and hamsters.

The American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) has determined that there is moderate evidence that BHT is a human respiratory irritant.

So what do we do? The next time you see BHA or BHT on a label, ask yourself if you'd be willing to take a chug of fuel of, say, embalming fluid. No? Then, you should probably buy something else.