Polyethylene Glycol & Propylene Glycol: What Are They & What are They Doing in My Moisturizer?

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As a mom, I am very concerned about what I am putting on my children’s skin… whether it be shampoos, diaper creams, or moisturizers. So I thought it would be interesting to take some questionable ingredients commonly found in products we use every day and find out what they do. First up, polyethylene glycol and propylene glycol (PEGs and PPGs).

These ingredients are used in many products as thickeners, solvents, softeners, and moisture-carriers. They are also popular emulsifiers – helping to mix two products that normally don’t mix together (for example, oil and water). Most cream-based products need some kind of emulsifier in them.

There are all sorts of names for these ingredients and they are used in many products on American shelves, but their safety for use in cosmetics is controversial. There are no restrictions on the use of PEGs in cosmetics in America. In the case of propylene glycol, as with many ingredients in products, it might not be the ingredient itself that is harmful, but process it goes through before it is used in a product that is the problem. 

The main health concern that PPG is known for is that, depending on the manufacturing processes, it can contain carcinogenic contaminants. It can also cause allergic reactions in some. PEG compounds themselves show some evidence that they can cause gene mutations, leading to cancer. It also functions as a “penetration enhancer,” increasing the permeability of the skin to allow greater absorption of the product — which can mean better penetration of any other harmful ingredients that may lurk in the product, as well. Scary stuff!

I don’t know about you, but it’s not something I want to put on my skin, or the skin of those I love (or anyone else for that matter!).  At Village Green Apothecary we carry a large selection of skin care products without these two ingredients.

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January 2023