Propylene glycol has hundreds of uses in the manufacturing of modern products. Though there are more toxic forms of the chemical used in antifreeze and degreasing agents, that which is found in skin-care products such as moisturizers and serums is considered safe, according to Dow, a major manufacturer of propylene glycol, or PG. The formula acts as a “humectant, preservative or stabilizer,” and is an ingredient contained in over 4,000 different types of cosmetic products.
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About Propylene Glycol
PG is an organic alcohol made from the fermentation of yeast and carbohydrates. It was first introduced to the market over 50 years ago and has since been used consistently in “health-sensitive applications” like food, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. Government agencies such as the FDA and the Personal Care Products Council have classified PG in its pharmaceutical grade form and in small amounts to be harmless to humans.
The top 28 companies in the personal care industry alone represent revenue that exceeds over $135 billion annually. These businesses depend not only on how efficiently products are produced and preserved, but on how well consumers receive them. Skin-care products are stored and shipped, and need to last, long after purchase; PG helps them to remain appealing and fresh throughout this process. For example, it preserves the homogeneous constituency of lotions that contain both oil and water that would not otherwise stay mixed properly for any length of time. PG also acts as a skin-conditioning agent when used in a cosmetic or skin-care product.
The Environmental Working Group, a health and safety agency, reports that PG has been associated with cases of skin irritation, contact dermatitis and even urticaria, which is the presence of too many mast cells in the skin. Though the EWG rates PG a fairly low 4 on a hazard scale that ranges from 0 to 10, 10 being the most hazardous, it cautions consumers with claims that it has been linked to cancer, developmental toxicity and allergies.
Propylene Glycol Allergy
Though it is not completely known why some people develop a sensitivity to PG, some researchers suggest that it could happen after repeated exposure to products that contain it. John L. Meisenheimer, M.D., board certified dermatologist and skin-care expert, says that once a patient becomes allergic, the immune system always remembers the sensitivity. He recommends only using products approved by your dermatologist or allergist, and to be careful about physical contact with others who might use products containing PG.
Avoiding Propylene Glycol
Though the FDA and other government agencies have approved PG, you may not support their optimistic views and wish to avoid it altogether. There are reputable companies that specifically produce skin-care lines that don’t contain PG and other “controversial” ingredients. If you do decide to axe PG from your personal care, you may, however, sacrifice some mainstream product features, including a long shelf life, fragrance, fluid consistency and product appearance.