A discussion on acetone in skincare products: Cane + Austin reached out to me with an offer to try their products for review consideration. Due to the field work that I do for the cosmetics industry, I was familiar with their product collection and was intrigued by some of their formulas.
I knew for a fact that their Acne Retexture pads contained acetone, which always made me feel slightly uncomfortable. I suppose I overlooked the acetone on their other formulas, because I accepted their offer without hesitation. They sent over the 10% Retexture Pads to try.
Once the pads arrived, I broke into the jar without reading the ingredients listed on the secondary packaging. I posted my ritual photo that night and thought nothing of it.
Then, Caroline Hirons sent me a DM on Instagram letting me know that the pads contained acetone, by which I was caught slightly off-guard. After revisiting the ingredient list, there it was. She and I have been in conversation about it for a couple of weeks, and mentioned that she's working on a review of the pads as well. We had to laugh, because it turns out that we planned to review the pads at around the same time. Hopefully no one thinks we're a-schemin' together!
Had I known that every single formula exfoliating pad formula contains acetone, I wouldn't have accepted the products. Not because I don't think Cane + Austin make good products - they do. But for me, acetone is too much of a controversial ingredient that, to be quite honest, I didn't want to participate in talking about.
Not only that, I don't like to accept products I know I won't like. It just seems wasteful and inconsiderate. I don't like writing negative reviews, unless they're somehow constructive.
But I made an error, and I'd like to own up to it. I should have double and triple-checked the INCI list before accepting the product simply to better inform myself. I think the same thing can be said for everyone else. Brands are required to list their ingredients somewhere on the packaging, so it's helpful to be informed on exactly what those ingredients are before purchasing and/or using said product.
Here's the thing: acetone is the second to last ingredient on the INCI list. It's listed even after the preservative (sodium benzoate), which almost guarantees that it's in mere trace amounts. It's a solvent for the glycolic acid to aid in penetration - similar to the way some formulas use alcohol or glycols - so that there's a better chance of thorough exfoliation.
I'm not an advanced cosmetic chemist, so it's hard for me to say just exactly how much acetone is used. Regardless, it's still a highly controversial ingredient.
I discussed this with a member of the Cane + Austin team, and here was their response: "I spoke with the team here as I am sure you are not the first person to see acetone and have concern about the ingredient. The acetone found in our products is a naturally occurring ingredient that aids with the efficacy of our glycolic formula and is actually acetone nf, an entirely different ingredient than the one that pops into our heads. In other words, it’s not the same as the acetone found in nail polish remover."
While that may be true, it's still acetone. It's hard to shake off the word acetone, even if it's only used in small quantities. Beyond that, some people may find it potentially sensitizing. I used the pads once and found them to be quite tingly, almost bordering on irritating. I gave it a few days, kept the "active" products to a minimum, and tried another pad. I found it to be thorough, but not harsh. The third time around, the results were similar: effective, but not irritating. It may have been that the first time I used the pads my skin simply couldn't handle a semi-potent glycolic acid, but it's hard to say.
Here's where I'm torn: I think in general, Cane + Austin makes quite good exfoliating products. Their formulas contain lots of good ingredients and the pH is likely where it should be due to the presence of pH adjusters. Their formulas contain an array of vitamins, replenishing ingredients, and ingredients which may improve signs of aging. That, paired with the act of chemical exfoliation means that you should, theoretically, see more even toned and textured skin.
I like that you get 60 pads for the price they're asking. Some brands in a similar price bracket will only provide half that amount of treatments. I'm in love with the green packaging. I'm such a sucker for a brand that will use a bold color and execute it well!
Personally, I don't think most of the formulas would be irritating for most people. I think you could use an entire jar of them, get great results, and (hopefully) not see any signs of irritation due to the acetone or any other ingredients in the formula for that matter.
But at the end of the day, I can't help but be hesitant to recommend any iterations of the pads simply due to the presence of acetone. Glycolic acid products can be formulated without acetone, so I'm just curious as to why they chose to use it. If they choose to continue formulating the way they do (and it's their brand, they have the right to), I wish they would at least point out to people that the acetone that's being used is not the same acetone that most people instinctively think of.
I think most people would be a little bit alarmed to find what is assumedly nail polish remover in their skincare products. Since, according to Cane + Austin, the acetone used isn't nail polish remover, I'd like to see that mentioned somewhere on the box or the website. I don't ever want to seem unappreciative of the products that are sent over, because I really am incredibly fortunate to be able to test and play with skincare at the extent that I do.
This experience has definitely been a reminder to be extra-discerning when trying products, especially ones that I am fortunate enough to receive as PR samples.
My advice to consumers when shopping for products that contain acetone in the formula is the same as it is for any ingredient: If it's enough to make you feel uneasy or make you question the product, go with your gut. It's your skin and your wallet. You should feel confident in the investment you're making.
My advice to brands who are formulating with an ingredient that may be viewed as controversial: Please tell us, your consumers, why the ingredient shouldn't be cause for alarm. If you can't justify its safety, please consider reformulating.
Ingredients: Water (Aqua), Glycolic Acid, Ammonium Hydroxide, Hamamelis Virginiana (Witch Hazel) Water, Polysorbate-20, Phospholipids, Retinyl Palmitate (Vitamin A), Tocopheryl Acetate (Vitamin E), Ascorbyl Palmitate (Vitamin C), Ubiquinone (COQ10), Disodium EDTA, Sodium Benzoate, Menthol, Acetone, Imidazolidinyl Urea.
Cane + Austin 10% Retexture Pads $60 for 60 pads Available from Sephora