Borax and skincare can be a controversial (and sometimes confusing) topic. The truth about borax in skincare is certainly something I’ve tried to understand for a long time.
As I began investigating borax, it became clear that many differing opinions exist regarding its safety.
Today I’d like to share my findings with you and explain the conclusion I have reached concerning the use of borax in skincare products. I’d love to know your thoughts about it too. So, please leave a comment and share your opinion below.
Let’s start at the beginning…
What is Borax?
Borax is a naturally occurring mineral, also known as “sodium borate, sodium tetra borate, or disodium tetra borate”.1 It is not to be confused with boric acid; while borax is a is a salt of boric acid, it is not chemically the same as boric acid.2 Many articles and studies appear to lump boric acid and borax together, which can make researching their impact somewhat difficult. Borax has similar properties to baking soda, but a higher pH level.
How is Borax Used?
Borax is well-known for its use in cleaning products; it is thought to soften water, remove dirt, eliminate odors, and boost laundry.
Besides cleaning products, you’ll find borax in various craft projects and also used as an insecticide to eliminate cockroaches, fleas, and ants.
In the skincare world, Borax is often found in creams, lotions, shampoos, gels, bath salts, and bath bombs. It’s often used to aid in emulsification and preserve products.3
Concerns About Borax?
Since borax is a naturally occurring mineral and is so useful in producing skincare and cleaning products, it is somewhat puzzling why there is so much fuss about its use.
It’s important to remember that “natural” doesn’t always equal safe, nor does it guarantee we are protected from adverse effects.
Here’s what I’ve discovered about the safety of using borax in skin care products…
Borax may be a skin irritant
As I researched this topic, I noticed many people stating that they had experienced skin irritation from using borax. It’s true that skin irritation can happen from almost anything if it is used in the wrong amount, and also true that each person has their own sensitivities and reactions to specific ingredients. So, this is not the definitive word on borax, but enough people experienced irritation to warrant caution and more investigation.
On page 2 of this material safety data sheet, we find the protocol for skin contact with borax to be the following:
Remove contaminated clothing and shoes. Rinse affected area with soap or a mild detergent and plenty of water until no evidence of product remains.
I find this somewhat disconcerting when considering using borax in my homemade skin care products. This safety sheet applies to undiluted borax, and the same could be said of certain undiluted essential oils, but it’s still something to carefully consider.
An article on the Environmental Working Group website states that, “…the cosmetics industry recommends that no borates be used in products designed for use on damaged skin.”
Paula’s choice ingredients dictionary says, “The pH range of borax is about 9 to 11; therefore, it can be a significant skin sensitizer when used in cosmetics.”
Side Note: The pH of baking soda is just over 8, and a big reason why Scratch Mommy Founder Jess has chosen NOT to use baking soda in her handcrafted skincare products. You won’t find baking soda as an ingredient in the skincare DIYs she creates here on Scratch Mommy, nor in her handcrafted skincare line, Pronounce Skincare. Her deodorant is one of only a few that doesn’t use baking soda, but rather uses a very effective, and safe, secret ingredient. You can see her Pronounce Skincare deodorant line HERE.
When considering all of the personal reports regarding skin irritation as well as the research from the EWG and others, I think we can at least conclude that borax has the potential to cause skin irritation in some individuals. Skin irritation may not be extremely common, but it is also not a rare occurrence. With the risk of skin irritation being reasonable, perhaps an alternative ingredient should be sought.
Borax may disrupt hormones
There are also reports that borax may be a hormone disruptor. Unfortunately, the studies leading to this conclusion involved the direct ingestion of borax by mice, rats and dogs, and the inhalation of borate dust by men working in the mine.4 5 The ingestion and inhalation were both at very high doses.
It is difficult to translate this to use in skincare products.
However, it is true that the skin has the ability to absorb efficiently and effectively, so it does raise the question: If borax can cause hormone disruption through ingestion and inhalation, could it do the same via skin application?
I’m not sure. (But I’d love to know!)
To speak plainly, coming to any kind of conclusion in regard to borax has been difficult! There are many natural-minded folks who have no qualms about using it in natural cleaning and skincare products.
As I began my study on the risks of using borax in skincare products, I honestly felt most concern over the possibility of hormone disruption.
As someone with a chronic illness, I try to avoid hormone disruption at all costs. It’s scary to think of having an autoimmune flare-up (which could last weeks or months), and terrifying to know the possibly of developing more hormone-related autoimmune diseases (once you’ve got one, it’s easier to get more).
All that to say, I try to protect myself from things that could cause harm. (Not to say that I am trying to live forever. It’s more like trying to have a good quality of life while I’m here.)
But, the jury is somewhat out on the possibility of hormone disruption, since studies have yet to be done on the use of borax in skincare products. (Can someone please get on that?)
It does appear that there is enough evidence in regard to skin irritation that we might consider other possibilities.
As you may have guessed by now, I’m going with the better-safe-than-sorry approach to borax.
While there may not be enough evidence to definitively say that it is harmful, there is also not enough evidence to say that it is completely safe.
At this point, it’s not a risk I’m willing to take. I chose to err on the side of caution here.
How about you? What are your thoughts on the use of borax in skincare products?