Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Know Your Ingredients: Propylene Glycol

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.

I disagree 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 her products?

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.

Photo courtesy of Dow, which believes that propylene glycol is non-irritating to skin and harmless to aquatic life. They sell it.

10 comments:

Liz McB said...

Hello CG! I am 100%, an ingredients list reader. I confess! I read labels from skincare and cosmetics to the food labels. Yes, I am obsessed. With so many reports of cancer and other health as well as environmental concerns, it pays us to be more informed and more aware of what we choose to use and ingest. I appreciate your post and value learning more about ingredients that may be readily used in our products but not something we would choose if we could find alternative solutions. Applauding you for taking your time to post this informative detail about one of so many ingredients we should all be more aware of...
I rarely take Paula's answers seriously because so often, she is trying to sell her products over another. However, the EWG site is most helpful in researching ingredients, etc...
I would love your input on other ingredients that are being used like some alcohols, bht and the many parabens which can also cause skin and health concerns.
Great post! Thank you!
Liz

Sandra said...

Kudos, Charleston Girl, for your article on propylene glyco. You are so on target that it is all about the money. I worked in the Executive Office of a major drug company for many years, and have little respect for "FDA Approval." The 4 or 5 chemical companies producing propylene glyco here in the US are huge companies with very deep pockets! We must be our on advocates, as you are, and not only read every label, but research any ingredient we do not recognize. This, of course, is not an easy job as it does take time. It is such a shame that we even have to do this. But so many companies, and Monsanto, to name one, are Satan's spawn and only care about making profits, even at the high coat of making people, and pets, very ill! Love your blog, and your spunk, CC!

Mamavalveeta03 said...

I can't believe cosmetics companies would use a PLANE de-icer in facial products! I DO believe it, however. I'm going to be reading a lot more ingredient lists on products, starting now. And I am of the same thinking when it comes to Paula Begoun. She's got a good thing going for herself, doesn't she?

Charleston Girl said...

MamaVal, you are one of the few who commented way back when.

Charleston Girl said...

Liz and Sandra,

Today, I was talking to a skin-care professional, and he was telling me about a product he liked. So we looked at the ingredients of the pricey stuff. Near the top? You guessed it. That reminded me to post this again.

I meticulously read ingredients.

Melanie said...

This is a great post. It's amazing how many people believe that if it's sold on a shelf, it's safe to use. I have lived with sensitive skin since birth and, lately, it has reached a new level of intolerance. I have to read everything. Fabric softener causes my skin to become inflamed. It's hard for others to understand.

Interesting how Johnson & Johnson were called out today. Further proof that we have are sold poisons so that someone can make a profit.

lovethescents said...

Charlestongirl, thank you for writing this very important article. In a world saturated with skin care products (pardon the pun!), it can be very confusing for the average consumer to understand what is safe/effective/snake oil. I have been searching for a good eye cream and have been doing endless research on the ingredients that would suit me best. Having knowledge about the ingredients in a product helps us make informed choices. Cheers to you for getting the ball rolling using science-based evidence <3

Nemo said...

Wonderful, CG! You are right! I read labels with a magnifying glass IN THE STORE! I've also learned which makeup companies sell the good, paraben-free items, and the bad ones who do not. I love Aveda hair and skin products and use them almost exclusively. I also use some Burt's Bees products. The strange and sad thing is that most of the high end items sold at NM and Saks for example are loaded with parabens and p. glycol. You do not get what you pay for. Thank you for your feature.

Alison said...

I am in total agreement and so grateful you are writing about this. Although I do wear makeup, that is the exception. For these very reasons, all my skin care, cleansing, sunscreens, body care, perfume, and shampoos are from natural and organic companies and suppliers. I also use 5-free and higher for all my nail polish base and top coats. It's not everything but it's what I can do. Every time I read a rave about a perfume, I know that these are all synthetic chemicals, phthalates etc-- so pass. Skin care promising all of these things are filled with all these ingredients. The descriptions of bloggers are so enticing but the product list brings me right down to earth. I do find that Paula B does debunk pricey products with loads of harmful ingredients and big promises-- and I find her site helpful for that. But I personally would not buy her products. I've used these kinds of products since my 20's and I am ever thankful to a beautician who turned me on to healthier products as you are doing now-- kudos!

Christina said...

Thanks for posting this. While I consider myself pretty mindful of ingredients in cosmetics and skincare, it is tough to keep up with the terminology for all the chemicals. I had completely forgotten about propylene glycol, yet I do seem to avoid products that list it high up in the ingredients list without really knowing/remembering why. This is a good reminder for me to be more careful about what I buy.