I learned about Propylene Glycol a while back, and I made a conscious decision to avoid it at all costs. Find out what Propylene Glycol is, how it's made, which products could contain this ingredient and how safe it really is.

First Contact

The first time I came across Propylene Glycol was many years ago, when I worked for a natural skincare company that made soaps, among other things. One day, a customer walked in and asked "What is this?" - pointing to the first and the most abundant ingredient in all the soaps, Propylene Glycol. I did not know at the time, and reiterated what we had been told - that everything was 100% natural. "Yes, but what is it, though?", both of us were wondering. I promised to find out.

My repeated requests for more information about this ingredient were met with dismissal by the company, so I took the matter into my own hands. This lead me to a lot of research on this chemical, which proved to be not that natural as we had been told.

Propylene Glycol is made from propylene oxide, which is made from a chemical called propylene, which in its turn is synthesised from propene. Propene, the base material for production of Propylene Glycol is produced from fossil fuels or coal. Phew.


Coal. One of the sources for Propylene Glycol.
The fields where Propylene Glycol grows

What is it used for?

Now, there are several reasons I avoid Propylene Glycol: It's produced from fossil fuels, it's a heavily processed chemical that should not be present in food or cosmetics and it could be toxic.

Unfortunately, Propylene Glycol is very widely used:

     ■  as antifreeze for cars and aircraft de-icing fluid
     ■  to make polyester resins
     ■  to make soap
     ■  humectant, solvent, and preservative in food and for tobacco products
     ■  one of the major ingredients of the liquid in e-cigarettes
     ■  used as a solvent in many pharmaceuticals

Also known as E1520 or "Propane-1, 2-diol", Propylene Glycol is an approved food additive in the EU, and by the UK Food Standards Agency. The EU COMMISSION REGULATION No 1130/2011 stipulates that Propylene Glycol levels in food are limited to 3000 mg/kg, and for beverages, the maximum level is 1000 mg/l. The FDA lists it as GRAS (generally recognised as safe). The CDC's Agency For Toxic Substances & Disease Registry does too.


A regular day at the lab.
Just a regular day at the Propylene Glycol manufacturing plant
Does this uniform comply with the Health and Safety at Work Act?

How safe is Propylene Glycol?

So, manufacturers are legally allowed to use Propylene Glycol in limited amounts - because it's safe, right?

Well, even the FDA is not that sure: "At lethal or near lethal doses (6 g per kg or more), it has been reported to cause kidney damage in several species and toe deformities in chicks." Say what? It causes deformities, but the FDA considers it safe?

A study from the Karlstad University in Sweden showed that propylene glycol and glycol ethers (PGEs) in bedroom air were associated with 1.5-fold greater likelihood of asthma, 2.8-fold greater likelihood of rhinitis, and 1.6-fold greater likelihood of eczema. Not good.

EWG's SkinDeep database gives it a rating of 3, with low to moderate overall hazard, warning of dermatitis and urticaria even at very low concentrations. Yet, it's used in many skincare products.

This Natural News article on Propylene Glycol quotes Shane Ellison, a former pharmaceutical chemist and author of 'Health Myths Exposed', who says: "It's foreign to the body and as such is toxic."

Scorecard, a website that aggregates information about pollution problems and toxic chemicals, lists Propylene Glycol as a suspected immunotoxicant, neurotoxicant, respiratory toxicant and skin or sense organ toxicant.

Propylene Glycol can be lethal to cats. According to the FDA (who, if you remember, has pronounced it safe), "Reports in the veterinary literature of scientifically sound studies have shown that propylene glycol reduces the red blood cell survival time, renders red blood cells more susceptible to oxidative damage, and has other adverse effects in cats consuming the substance at levels found in soft-moist food. In light of these new data, CVM amended the regulations to expressly prohibit the use of propylene glycol in cat foods." So, it can't be used in cat food any more.


I don't want no Propylene Glycol!
I don't want no Propylene Glycol!

What can you do about it?

Here's my problem with Propylene Glycol: Just because you can use something, does not mean that you should. There are many safer alternatives to this chemical that can be used instead of it. Not only does the currently available research show that Propylene Glycol can be an irritant, but it also confirms that it can be mutagenic and toxic, which is harmful not only for humans, but it can also affect animals and the environment. When degrading, Propylene Glycol can damage aquatic life, as it consumes oxygen that fish and other aquatic organisms require for survival.

My advice is: Always read ingredient listings. On everything. Know what you eat or use on your body. Propylene Glycol is commonly found in following personal care products:

     ■  stick deodorant
     ■  soap
     ■  make-up products
     ■  moisturiser
     ■  toothpaste & mouthwash
     ■  hair colour
     ■  ...and many, many more

I believe that repeated exposure to numerous chemicals that are present in our everyday life is a problem. By reducing the amount of different ingredients we are exposed to, we can help our bodies to detox, without constantly overloading them. Every chemical that enters our organs needs to be identified, recognised and neutralised by the immune system. Why make this job harder?

What do you know about Propylene Glycol, and what products have you encountered it in? Let me know in your comments!