This article is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.
You may have noticed the name propylene glycol in your skin care products, such as shampoos, moisturizers, and lotions, but you may need to be made aware of what this chemical is and the effects it may have on your health. Kushae is here to help you understand what propylene glycol is, its usage, and the safety issues that may be attributed to it.
What is propylene glycol?
Propylene glycol is a synthetic liquid substance that can absorb water molecules. It is an odorless and tasteless substance that can be used to make polyester compounds and acts as a base for deicing solutions. At room temperature, propylene glycol is a slightly syrupy liquid. When heated or quickly shaken, propylene glycol is vaporized in the air. The National Library of Medicine lists other propylene glycol names, including 1,2-dihydroxy propane, 1,2-propanediol, methyl glycol, and trimethyl glycol. When purchasing products, look for ingredients that may list propylene glycol or several other names it may be referred to, such as methyl glycol.
What's it typically used for?
Propylene glycol is used in many different applications, including the food, pharmaceutical, and industrial industries. In the food industry, propylene glycol is used as an additive. According to the National Library of Medicine, propylene glycol is excellent at absorbing water and maintains moisture well. This component makes propylene glycol useful in many foods, certain medications, and cosmetics. In addition to its additives usage, the food industry also utilizes propylene glycol as a solvent for food coloring and flavor, which can also be used to make plastic and paint (National Library of Medicine). Propylene glycol is also used to create artificial fog or smoke for theatrical productions and fire-fighting training (National Library of Medicine).
Why is propylene glycol considered unsafe by many?
The Hazardous Substance Fact Sheet from the New Jersey (NJ) Department of Health indicates that exposure to propylene glycol may cause immediate or relatively after exposure acute (short-term) health effects. The NJ Department of Health further explains that those exposed to propylene glycol may suffer from nausea, vomiting, headaches, lightheadedness, dizziness, loss of consciousness, and eye and skin irritations. Prolonged use or exposure to propylene glycol can result in kidney damage, skin dryness, rashes, and redness. So is propylene glycol safe for skin? These exposures are often associated with direct handling of the chemical and are not the same as the exposure or extent in food or skin care products. But, those with sensitivities to propylene glycol may experience the same side effects with as little as 2% exposure to the chemical. According to a board-certified dermatologist, Dr. Purvisha Patel, propylene glycol is chemically inactive or inert when used in cosmetic or skincare products. This is due to the propylene glycol deriving from cosmetic grade petroleum, not commercial grade.
Though most of the population may be unaffected by propylene glycol products, those who have sensitivities to the chemical and those with eczema or allergies may have many side effects with prolonged usage.