Nasty chemical of the month: Propylene glycol
You might have seen the chemical propylene glycol listed among the ingredients in some of your personal care products, like bath and shower gel, deodorant, makeup, moisturizer, sunscreen, shampoo and conditioner, perfume and toothpaste. It’s also found in some baby wipes.
It has no colour, taste or scent. In the products mentioned above, it’s used to stabilise fluids that aren’t soluble, to bind together other substances and to draw and hold moisture, preventing evaporation.
Propylene glycol is used to keep things like cosmetics and skin creams soft, keep foams stable, condition skin and make creams less viscous. It also has other applications as a food and drink additive, mainly to carry flavour. Because of its water retaining properties, it’s also used to deliver atomised medications.
Propylene glycol also has some heavy duty uses, being added to antifreeze and paints and coatings.
Although the Food and Drug Administration in the US deems propylene glycol as “generally recognised as safe” for things like food and flavouring, it’s an ingredient we choose to leave out of our products. That decision is grounded in the precautionary principle – our belief that if there’s doubt about the safety of an ingredient we’d rather find a safer alternative.
The Environmental Working Group is concerned by some potentially harmful health effects, including an association with skin irritation and allergic contact dermatitis, and toxicity to organs and the immune system. Skin sensitisation effects can be evident even at low concentrations of propylene glycol, it says.
Studies have shown that this chemical can cause allergic reactions in patients with eczema and other skin conditions, while prolonged exposure’s been linked with the development of asthma and allergic reactions in children.
Read more here about propylene glycol and other ingredients we leave out of our products.