I was stunned when I read years ago in Allure that dermatologist Doris Day was plugging propylene glycol. She remarked that it's a good humectant for sensitive skin. Today, a conversation at the makeup counter reminded me that many of you weren't reading BTiB six years ago and might find this post interesting.
Propylene glycol is
a humectant. It makes the skin feel moist and soft, and it keeps your
products from drying out. It's also a carrier in fragrance oils, a
solvent, a de-icer used on airplanes, and an anti-freeze. It's
ubiquitous. It's used in so many beauty products (cosmetics, skin care,
toothpaste, deodorant, and more), you'll be amazed if you start reading
labels. Unfortunately, it's bad for the environment (it depletes oxygen
in surface water), and it can cause contact dermatitis when used in
concentrations over 2% (and for some skin, even lower concentrations).
The findings on the effects of propylene glycol have been published in
respected medical journals.
The Material Safety Data Sheet for
propylene glycol says it may be harmful by ingestion or skin absorption.
Remember, that's at a very high concentration. Chronic exposure may
cause gastrointestinal disturbances, nausea, headache, and vomiting,
along with central nervous system depression. If you get it on your
skin, wash with soap and water - the very premise of Dr. Day's
recommendation for cleansers! Granted, full-strength, industrial
propylene glycol isn't in your beauty products, but what strength is OK
for daily application to your skin? We don't know.
with Paula Begoun, self-described Cosmetics Cop, on most of her product
reviews. In her Cosmetic Ingredient Dictionary, she describes propylene
glycol as harmless. Could that be because she uses propylene glycol in
Why do so many beauty companies, including luxury companies, use it? It's cheap.
Plain and simple - it's cheap. It's legal too. Many companies prefer to
use it over better, but more expensive humectants, and they count on
having uninformed customers. Chances are good that you've been using
products containing propylene glycol for years. That doesn't necessarily
make them good for you.
I read labels. When a product has a high
concentration of propylene glycol (near the top of the ingredient
list), I skip it and select something else. Remember, you can still buy
cigarettes, but that doesn't make them good for you.
courtesy of Dow, which believes that propylene glycol is non-irritating
to skin and harmless to aquatic life. They sell it.