WTF?! There’s anti-freeze in my moisturizer?!
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 Is Propylene Glycol?
Propylene Glycol is an organic alcohol derived from oil. That alone is enough for most people to accuse it of the most unspeakable crimes – WITHOUT proof.
First off, Propylene Glycol doesn’t dry out your skin (not all alcohol in skincare is bad). Plus, 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.
Propylene Glycol Uses: What Is It Doing In Skincare Products?
You’ve probably heard that Propylene Glycol is an industrial anti-freeze used in brake and hydraulic fluids. That’s true. So what is it doing in skincare products?
FYI, lots of chemicals are multi-taskers that can do completely different jobs, depending on how you use it. At 100% concentrations, it’s an anti-freeze.
In the 5% or smaller concentrations used in cosmetics, it has other functions. Here are its many uses:
- Stability: It keep your lotions from freezing at low temperatures and melting at high ones.
- Humectant: It draws moisture from the environment into the skin, keeping it hydrated and supple for hours.
- Penetration-enhancer: It helps deliver other active ingredients deeper into the skin, so they work better and faster.
- Solvent: It helps dissolve other ingredients in the formula.
Related: What The Heck Are Humectants And Should You Use Them?
Want to know what ingredients you really need to avoid in your skincare products? Sign up to the newsletter below to receive the “Skincare Ingredients To Avoid” cheatsheet:
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 repeatedly show it’s safe.
Related: 7 Skincare Ingredients With An Undeserved Bad Reputation
Is Enhanced Ingredient Penetration Dangerous?
Propylene Glycol may not cause cancer or irritations, but it CAN penetrate skin. Surely, THAT must be dangerous?
Nope. Here’s why:
- Absorption is minimal: Only the tiniest amount of Propylene Glycol penetrates into the skin. It’s the dose that makes the poison – ALWAYS.
- 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!).
- Breakdown: As I’ve mentioned earlier, Propylene Glycol breaks down into lactic acid in the blood. What’s dangerous about lactic acid?
What about the other ingredients it helps to get through the skin?
Again, no danger here. Propylene Glycolic is a weak penetration enhancer. You need a 10% concentration for this – and those can be irritating. It’s very rare for a skincare product to contain that much. It’s just not a good experience and people won’t use it.
Related: Does Your Skin Really Absorb 60% Of What You Put On It?
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? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.