Is Propylene Glycol Dangerous?

by Gio
is propylene glycol in skincare dangerous

WTF?! There’s anti-freeze in my moisturizer?!

*Anyone’s reaction to learning about Propylene Glycol (you know, the industrial anti-freeze used in brake and hydraulic fluids)*.

Yep and you shouldn’t worry about it.

No, I haven’t lost my marbles.

Propylene Glycol is one of those fellas that sound scary as hell. But when you look at it through science’s eyes, it’s just a little misunderstood molecule that doesn’t do anyone any harm.

Don’t take my word for it. Here’s what science has to say about Propylene Glycol:

What The Heck Is Propylene Glycol?

Propylene Glycol is an organic alcohol that doesn’t dry out your skin. It’s derived from oil. That alone is enough for most people to accuse it of the most unspeakable crimes – WITHOUT proof.

When it’s absorbed by the skin, Propylene Glycol turns into lactic acid, a substance your body naturally produces when it exercises. No danger in that.

Why Is Propylene Glycol In My Skincare Products?

Several reasons:

Is Propylene Glycol Dangerous?

Critics claim that Propylene Glycol is super irritating and can cause liver and kidney problems. Cancer even.

Science has a different opinion:

  • Irritation: yes, at 100% concentrations, Propylene Glycol is super irritating and can seriously sting your skin and eyes. BUT, you’ll never find that much in your lotions and potions. Propylene Glycol is usually used around 2% concentrations. Too small to irritate anyone (unless you have super super super sensitive skin).
  • Cancer: there is no proof that Propylene Glycol causes cancer. I guess this rumour was started because Propylene Glycol is a petrolchemical, BUT studies have shown it is safe.

Wait! What About Skin Penetration?

Propylene Glycol can penetrate skin AND help other ingredients do the same. Surely, THAT must be dangerous?

Nope. Here’s the deal:

  1. Absorption is minimal: only the tiniest amount of Propylene Glycol penetrates into the skin.
  2. Safe to eat: according to the World Health Organization, ingesting 25 mg of propylene glycol per kg body weight every day is fine. You put much less on your skin. (Please, don’t start eating your skincare now!).
  3. Breakdown: as I’ve mentioned earlier, Propylene Glycol breaks down into lactic acid in the blood. What’s dangerous about lactic acid?

Ok, Propylene Glycol is safe. But what about the other ingredients it helps to get through the skin?

Well, as long as those aren’t dangerous, where’s the harm? Besides, propylene glycol is only a weak penetration enhancer. It won’t let ALL your cream get through. The little it lets in is HIGHLY unlikely to cause problems.

The Bottom Line

Propylene Glycol is safe. In the tiniest concentrations used in cosmetics, it won’t irritate skin, won’t give you cancer and won’t cause you any harm.

What do you think of Propylene Glycol? Will you keep avoiding it? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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24 comments

Tavia March 24, 2010 - 12:36 am

Thanks for this article Gio! I don’t know much about all these ingredients but since you started writing about them I started learning. Just the other days I was talking with my friends over a cup of Vanilla Smoothie about how important is to know a lil bit about these ingredients. I showed them your blog so they can start learning about all these ingredients contained in cosmetic products so they will know what is good or not for their skin. They even liked your article about Nivea products because some of them were still using some of Nivea products with those old formulas. 🙂 Thanks again and keep posting. 🙂
.-= Tavia´s last blog ..L’Oreal Paris Studio Secrets Professional – New Spring 2010 Products =-.

Reply
beautifulwithbrains March 24, 2010 - 8:01 pm

Tavia, you’re welcome and thanks for telling your friends about my little blog. 🙂 I’m glad that they found the Nivea article interesting cos there are so much better products out there that will benefit skin a lot more than those basic, and often irritating formulas from Nivea. And I agree with you that it’s very important to know what the ingredients do so that we can choose the best products for our skin and keep it healthy, hydrated and young. And if I can help someone know more about all that, then I’m glad 😉

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Ecopunk July 27, 2012 - 10:23 am

Hi,
Here’s some more information on Propylene Glycol:
http://www.sciencelab.com/msds.php?msdsId=9927239
Please read down to the toxicology part.
EP

Reply
beautifulwithbrains July 27, 2012 - 12:27 pm

Ecopunk, thank you for the link. However MSDS refer to 100% undiluted Propylene Glycol. In cosmetics, it is used in much smaller amounts that don’t pose a threat to human health. I know I’ve said it before, but it is the dose that makes the poison. Even water is toxic in very high concentrations, but drinking it in moderate amounts is very good for you as we need it to function properly.

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Wanda February 23, 2016 - 4:04 am

I cannot understand why you say this. I worked where they make this stuff, at Chevron oil refinery, it is not good at ALL!?who would want ANYTHING that is used in conjunction with RADIATION FLUID?

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Stephen November 8, 2012 - 5:40 am

I’ve been avoiding this ingredient for a long time. My question is if PG can help the absorption of other ingredients into the skin, couldn’t that be dangerous due to pollution already in the environment? I live in NYC, and it’s not the cleanest place in the world. Also this is still a petroleum derived compound is it not. I have not use petroleum on my body in quite some time.

SR

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beautifulwithbrains November 8, 2012 - 7:01 am

Stephen, that’s a good question. But after writing this post, I came across this article on Colin’s Beauty Pages (http://colinsbeautypages.co.uk/propylene-glycol-how-bad-is-it/) that states you need to use a high amount of propylene glycol to enhance penetration of other ingredients. And because that amount could be irritating, Propylene Glycol is rarely used as a carrier in cosmetics. Usually its concentration is too small to allow other ingredients to penetrate the skin properly, so I wouldn’t worry about it too much.

And yes, it is derived from petroleum, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Petroleum-derived compounds undergo a strict refining process at the end of which their molecules don’t even resemble oil anymore. They are different substances with different benefits and different side effects.

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Dawn Vieth November 12, 2012 - 6:28 pm

Thanks for the info! It has been very helpful!

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beautifulwithbrains November 12, 2012 - 7:23 pm

Dawn, you’re welcome. I’m glad you’ve found it helpful.

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Christopher June 29, 2013 - 5:37 am

Thanks very much! Not so worried anymore 🙂

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beautifulwithbrains June 29, 2013 - 3:31 pm

Christopher, you’re welcome. I’m glad to hear that. 🙂

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lsl493 July 3, 2013 - 12:11 pm

I have recently quit smoking cigarettes with the help of vapor electronic cigs. I found it to be the only thing that has helped me stop smoking. It contains PG. Now I am concerned about this. Any input would be appreciated.

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beautifulwithbrains July 3, 2013 - 9:37 pm

Isl493, good for you for quitting cigarettes. Propylene Glycol is a substance that’s classifies as GRAS (generally recognized as safe) by the FDA. While it is true that we don’t know the effects of inhaling it often as ecigs are so recent, I highly doubt that it is more harmful than traditional cigarettes, which have been proven to deliver toxic and carcinogenic substances generated by burning tobacco. I hope this helps.

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Jason Bloomfield August 14, 2013 - 9:13 pm

Why has some companies started to replace Propylene Glycol with Butylene Glycol?
Jason

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beautifulwithbrains August 18, 2013 - 4:41 pm

Jason, probably because of the bad reputation Propylene Glycol has gained. Substituting an ingredient is easier than educating people.

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Tianachuang March 1, 2015 - 10:39 pm

Thank you for the very informative article in this great website! I wanted to know what would be the purpose of propylene glycol for hair products? Would it considered be considered an alcohol ? If it’s in a hair product (specifically to provide moisture) would it be absorped and become lactic acid or actually dry the hair more being an alcohol?

Thanks!!

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Tianachuang March 1, 2015 - 10:42 pm

One more question, are there other ingredients that would serve as a reference that the propylene glycol is acting as a binder for?

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Gio March 2, 2015 - 9:32 pm

Tianachuang, glad you enjoyed the article. Propylene Glycol is a small molecule with two alcohol (hydroxyl) groups (-OH), but it is not drying. It is mostly used as a humectant, to attract moisture from the environment into the hair. This can cause frizz in some people, but overall, this ingredient is safe.

Also, I’m not sure I understand your last question. But propylene glycol can also help active ingredients to penetrate the skin better, so you need to be careful not to use it with anything that could be irritating.

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Bertie Luce January 4, 2016 - 4:37 am

When lactic acid is released by muscles it causes soreness, sometime very painful. The best way to alleviate the pain of sore muscles is to flush out the lactic acid with lots of water consumption. If this product is metabolized into lactic acid doesn’t it cause inflammation? Why would you want to put something on or in your body that is a derivative of petroleum, which you neglected to mention…..btw

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Gio January 5, 2016 - 8:06 am

Bertie, just because something is a derivative of petroleum, it doesn’t automatically mean it’s bad. All the carcinogenic and toxic stuff is removed from these substances before they’re put in cosmetic.

Propylene glycol is used in very small amounts. Too small to cause any problems for our health. It is the dose that makes the poison. Even vitamin c, which we all agree is good for us, can kill us if we ingest too much of it.

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Kathleen Rollins January 4, 2017 - 10:40 pm

After reading other articles stating that propylene glycol, which is an ingredient in baby wipes, caused cancer, I became extremely upset. The reason is that I use baby wipes to wipe my dog’s eyes and another one to wipe their tushes. I have had 4 dogs die of cancer over the years at the ages of about 14 or 15 years old. I must say that I feel so much better after reading that this ingredient has not been proven to cause cancer. Hopefully, that is absolutely true. I will suffer tremendously for the rest of my life if I know I am the culprit for their cancer using a carcinogenic product. The concentration of propylene glycol is supposedly extremely low so that this ingredient is harmless when used in personal care products.

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Gio January 5, 2017 - 10:03 am

Kathleen, I’m so sorry to hear about the death of your dogs. As tragic as it was, you can at least be reassured that you didn’t cause it. There is no proof linking propylene glycol to cancer, especially in the tiny concentrations used in these products. Sadly cancer is an awful disease that sometimes just happens. 🙁

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Adele Stockhoff November 26, 2017 - 7:14 am

Good day do you maybe know if the celltone and oh so heavenly products contain any cancer forming products.
Both of them dont test on animals but I want to make sure.
Thank you

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Gio December 3, 2017 - 7:25 pm

Adele, I doubt it as it’s illegal to put carcinogenic stuff in cosmetics. But if there’s a particular product you’re interested in, please provide me with the ingredient list so I can have a look.

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