What Is Propylene Glycol And Why You Should Avoid It.

March 31, 2009

What is propylene glycol? It is is a chemical found in personal care products that acts as a penetration enhancer that keeps products from melting in heat and/or freezing when it is cold. It is found in items such as shampoo, conditioner, soap, acne treatment, moisturizer, toothpaste, deodorant, nail polish, mascara; basically anything you could possibly use on your body, propylene glycol is in it. But why should you avoid propylene glycol?

For starters it alters the structure of the skin by allowing chemicals to penetrate deep beneath it while increasing their ability to reach the blood stream. Sounds lovely, right? So even if propylene glycol was good for you, it’s main job is to help any other chemicals you come in contact with reach your bloodstream. Who wants to use a chemical designed to help other chemicals penetrate even deeper into your skin? Not me.

However, there is even more to it than just that…

How Toxic is Propylene Glycol

According to the Environmental Working Group, propylene glycol can cause a whole host of problems. It is rated a 3 by them, which is categorized as a “moderate” health issue. It has been shown to be linked to cancer, developmental/reproductive issues, allergies/immunotoxicity, neurotoxicity, endocrine disruption, and organ system toxicity. It has been found to provoke skin irritation and sensitization in humans as low as 2% concentration, while the industry review panel recommends cosmetics can contain up to 50% of the substance. It has also been classified as “expected to be toxic or harmful” by Environment Canada.

How to Spot Propylene Glycol

When looking at ingredient lists, you can look for names like 1,2-Dihydroxypropane; 2-Hydroxypropanol; Methylethy Glycol; 1,2-Propanediol; Propane-1,2-Diol. Some popular products that contain propylene glycol include:

  • Biolage by Matrix Conditioning Balm
  • Nivea for Men Hair & Body Wash, Sensitive
  • Aveeno Active Naturals Skin Relief Overnight Cream
  • Arm & Hammer Essentials Natural Deodorant, Unscented
  • Cetaphil Daily Facial Moisturizer For All Skin Types

So take a look at the ingredients of the products that you use and search for propylene glycol or the other names it is often called/listed as. I try my best to only use safe, natural products, but I am always reading labels in the store before I purchase anything. Chances are there is a safe alternative to a toxic favorite. Next time you are shopping for a personal care item, be sure to remember what propylene glycol is and do your best to avoid it!

About the Author:

After a varied past of being a test driver for automotive television programs, a Hollywood studio lackey, and an online media sales director, David is now the publisher and editor of The Good Human. In his spare time he rides motorcycles, drinks good beer, and builds stuff in the garage. You can follow him on Twitter at @thegoodhuman or G+ at Google
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Comments (52)

  1. David,

    Another reason to make your own skin care products – and it’s really easy to do. The only thing that I don’t make yet is deodorant & toothpaste. Homemade deodorant is next up on my to-do – cornstarch & baking soda.

    I’ve posted recipes of how to make your own lotions, soaps (use for shampoo also), and lip balm on my blog.
    http://fimby.tougas.net/soap_body_care

  2. Ashley Sue says:

    Wow… I was just reading The Gorgeously Green Diet, where she mentions a number of additives to avoid. This one was not on the list, but as I pulled the bag of coconut shreds from my fridge to use as a dessert garnish, I saw propylene glycol on the ingredients and decided to google it.

    Scary. Thank you for your post on it’s dangers. Certainly something to consider, and for multiple reasons. I do not believe it is something I want to be eating or feeding my family (and in the trash the bag goes!).

  3. Ashley Sue Bullers @AshleySue says:

    Andrew, just because something is in a ton of foods and ADDITIVES and fake COLOURING does not make it safe, nor does the US FDA declaring it safe mean it is. Honestly, hydrogenated oils and artificial sweeteners are declared safe enough that they are not taken off the market, yet clear evidence shows they can have very negative effects on the body are are non-essential to a healthy diet. Like ALL additives, this one can butt out.

  4. jane says:

    I believe that the FDA is allowing the toxins to be used in all products. The claim to safety is ‘false’ and remember how Pharmacuetical corporations keep pumping out all kinds of pills that later turn out to have killed many and be linked to cancer, and or depression and sucidal tendency that shows that the FDA is on the dole. And lobbyists from major corporations do their best to get their products patent and put human and dog and cat products.Best to go natural that include No flouride in mouth wash and water,tooth paste. Just cause Donald Runsfeld helped push that through in to our major product doesn’t mean its safe, it means money for the companies who make it.

  5. VS says:

    The ONLY reason these additives are legal is because our lawmakers make it legal. Congress stopped being public servants long ago. They serve whoever has the richest lobby. Congress catering to big business is the reason ingredients that have been banned for years in other countries are allowed in the U.S. Propylene glycol(aka Dihydroxypropane or 2-Hydroxypropanol or Methylethy Glycol) should only be found in your antifreeze but it’s everywhere because its the cheapest solution to a problem AND AND AND because Congress was successfully lobbied to keep it legal. The lawmakers are where the breakdown occurs but the people have yet to fire them.

    • Blam says:

      I think you are confusing propylene glycol with ethelyne glycol with is toxic. PG antifreeze is labeled as “non-toxic” antifreeze and is used in mechanical food systems where a leak may occur. Not saying that it is entirely safe because you or I can not know that for sure. Just because a chemical is used in something that is considered toxic does not mean that the chemical it self is toxic. If you click on the Envrionmental Workong Group in the article it only lists allergies as the primary concern for PG. And nowhere have I seen that Propylene Glycol is banned in any countries.

      • Ron W says:

        I believe personal research and personal empowerment are what keep me from making bad choices about what to put in my body and you honestly can’t tell me because something isn’t banned in a country makes it ok to put in ones body. Labeling first off is a big issue that concerned citizens are actively participating to change for the better! No intelligent person would rely on labels at this point without doing research and educating themselves and what ingredients are healthy for the body.

        Propylene glycol has been shown to be linked to cancer, developmental/reproductive issues, allergies/immunotoxicity, neurotoxicity and endocrine disruption.

      • Rose says:

        Whenever I use hair conditioners with propylene glycol, my hair falls out relentlessly and when I finally get what the problem is I stop using it and the hair loss stops. I won’t forget about this again. No more P. glycol for me.

      • Bri says:

        True – after all, many toxic products contain ingredients that are benign individually, such as water. And just because something is “natural” does not mean it is safe to consume, such as the deadly nightshade plant. Poop and dirt are natural, but that doesn’t mean I’d like to eat them.

    • chuck says:

      I just found out that the food product Mio (a flavor that you add to water on the go) has propylene glycol in it. Unbelievable first pink slime now this. Thanks FDA for your great watch dog efforts!

      • Barry says:

        Where are you reading this? I have three bottles of Mio in front of me now and none of them list propylene glycol as an ingredient…

        • Scott says:

          This is certainly true. I was shocked when I looked at the back of the bottle and saw that as one the the first ingredients. Apparently the Canadian varieties don’t contain PG. From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MiO

          “MiO products state they use no artificial flavors, but are artificially colored and sweetened concentrated syrups.[3] MiO Energy contains 60 milligrams of caffeine per serving. With the exception of Canadian varieties, all contain propylene glycol[4].”

        • Davod says:

          I looked up PG because I have a bottle of MIO in front of me. It is the 3rd ingedient after water and citric acid.

        • Helen Grffith says:

          Check candy-Russell Stover coconut nests. Checking for calories and found propylene glycol. Also in prescription meds. This is very up-setting. As for Mio,depends on the flavor you get.

        • Becca says:

          I have the Mio energy Black Cherry and it is listed as the third ingredient. I didn’t realize what it even was until a co worker pointed it out. According to him, it is in all Mio (and other drink flavorings like it), but I have only checked this one bottle.

        • ted says:

          i have a bottle of mioenergy and it is listed on there

      • Sl says:

        I agree – I have just tried Mio for the first time in the Strawberry Watermelon flavor and noticed it had propelyne glycol in the ingredient list. This is exactly the reason I googled the ingredients. It definitely open my eyes to the items I consume. I will be more mindful of this ingredient in the future.

  6. Mark Elders says:

    Studies conducted in 1942 by Dr. Oswald Hope Robertson of University of Chicago’s Billings Hospital showed vaporized propylene glycol inhalation in laboratory mice may prevent pneumonia, influenza, and other respiratory diseases. Additional studies in monkeys and other animals were undertaken to determine long-term effects, especially the potential for accumulation in the lungs. After a few months of treatment, no ill effects were discovered.

    • Ron W says:

      Mark, I am sorry but that is hardly a relevant reference, try something more current PG has been shown to be linked to cancer, developmental/reproductive issues, allergies/immunotoxicity, neurotoxicity and endocrine disruption.

  7. gaz says:

    oh dear. how bad is this stuff if you inhale it ? i am trying to stop smoking and saw this great offer for E-lites. a fake cigarette that you smoke like a normal one and you inhale the nicotine. but another ingredient is .. propylene glycol.. shouldn’t there at least be some warning on these packages that it could be harmful.

    • David Quilty says:

      There is no safe way to quit smoking other than by just stopping. All that replacement stuff is bad news. Check out a book by Alan Carr, Easyway to stop smoking. Good luck.

  8. Goodgenie4u says:

    All chemicals that are man made are likely toxic. The immune system was not man made and does not recognize them. It does get duped by them. Go figure what happens next. Artificial sweetness dupe us into tasting sugar, the immune system then freaks out looking for glucose. It then decides to fix the problem by generating cravings….so we get hungry again, when we should not.

  9. Jenny says:

    Wonder how it affects the body when its ingested?? I have started replacing my family’s bath/body products with those that don’t contain propylene glycol after learning about its effects. Then the other day while baking, I was pretty much horrified when I saw it in my coconut extract and shredded coconut!!

  10. dona wyant says:

    I just have to tell you I was watching Dr. Oz one day when he had a dermatologist on. She highly recommended St. Ives Timeless Skin Moisturizer. Normanly I check out the ingredients but this time I went and bought this moisturizer and really liked it. However today I see that it contains Propylene Glycol as a second ingredient! Does this mean Dr. Oz is not checking products as well as we think. I did take this item back to the store with the article explaining what Propylene Glycol is.
    Sorry Just had to vent!!!!!!!!
    Thanks for listening

  11. Tre says:

    For the past 2 years I’ve been using this acne treatment gel on my face. I went to check the ingredients today to see if it had another cancer causing chemical and BAM I saw propylene glycol. I’ve been reading up on cancerous chemicals in hair coloring products because I dyed my hair and found out that there are so many harmful ones in there. So I knew about propylene glycol. I was shocked. I mean my doctor who I’ve known all my life, and is an expert gave me that product. I’m surprised she hasn’t researched these things… I don’t know what I’m going to do, because I need that acne gel, and switching from one to another can just ruin my face. Plus not having it will just cause my face to breakout all over…

    Now like I said, I dyed my hair recently ( my first time) and found out it has propylene glycol and so many others so this not only the first time coloring it, but my last. It was a bad idea choosing permanent but I’ll work somthing out.

    • wdpmap says:

      You should read a book called “Virgin Coconut Oil.” You can find it on half.com for around $3. Often times when a person has extreme acne it is not a bacteria but a yeast infection. If you were to eat virgin coconut oil it will help your skin more than the products you are using. We use at as a moisturizer too.

    • Shelty says:

      Hi Tre,
      I used to suffer miserably from acne…only on my chin..but constant and it made me miserable.
      I started probiotics (yougurt). My skin recovered from that alone!!

      basically what wdpmap is saying is true and I’ve heard about that as well…but this is the approach I used.

  12. Marcella Hrysyzen says:

    I found it 5th on a list of 17 in my favorite Mocha drink. I will miss my Mocha. I was drinking 2-3 cups a day.. I was having a problem with a high pulse reading.. I am hoping that will get normal..

  13. Brandy D. Ramos says:

    I found out that it is also in dog food. I just signed a petition: http://www.change.org/petitions/justice-for-fizzoli?utm_campaign=autopublish&utm_medium=facebook&utm_source=share_petition&utm_term=6768217 This poor dog owner and many like him lost their dogs to Propylene Glycol.

    • Nancy says:

      I looked at the ingredients list on my dog’s food and while I commend Nature’s Variety on their short list of ingredients, I was disappointed to see canola oil high on that list (canola = gmo).

  14. Blossom says:

    I can’t get the link with “1041” in it to open. Drat. Brandy, thanks for the warning about dog foods. Do you know if it was dry or wet food ??? Apparently the product has several different names. but I couldn’t access the list by google either.

  15. rusty valentine says:

    Hello—-May I recommend two of the products that I use and have used for a long time and that I think you would be happy with.
    1. is Badger Balm…located in New Hampshire, usa and certified organic…website: http://www.badgerbalm.com. Their products come in little round tins (great for throwing in your purse), some in bottles, depending what product you purchase and contains only the finest ingredients, such as calendula, oils of lavender, peppermint, eucalyptus, mandarin, sandlewood, rosehip, chamomile, jojoba, rosemary, tea tree and balsam fir, just for starters. You can get it for your hands and body, for your feet, for headaches, for sleep. for stress soothing, for after a day in the sun, for sore muscles and joints, a lip balm and even a balm for babies. I cannot say enough about it and the cost is minimal at under $10 and it lasts and lasts, so your not replacing it every week.

    2. The second one I use is Alaffia, located in Olympia, Washington, usa…their website is; http://www.alaffia.com and it is a handcrafted and unrefined shea butter. Everything made by hand!!! Besides being an excellent mosturizer, you also get the unique benefits of its fatty acid profile and Vitamins A & E. It is a rich cream that comes in round glass jars. Added to the shea butter is virgin cocoa butter for extra moisturizing and papaya leaf extract for skin firming. They also have many other products at reasonable prices that you can check out. You don’t have to pay hundreds of dollars for these two excellent products like products in a department store at the mall. I get mine at the grocery store, which has a whole three aisle section of personal care products. You can go on line and check them out and if you can’t find the products at your stores, you can call them for a location or order directly from them. Hope this information helps as I think once you give these two products a try, like me, you won’t be looking for anything more…..~molly~ P.S. I don’t work for either company…I’m just passing on the information of the two products I use that I’m happy with, which contains no toxic ingredients at all. NONE!!! Absolutely NO WORRIES!!!

  16. Shana says:

    This stuff is also in Mio, the liquid water enhancer. This is crazy that it is beverages now.

  17. Audra says:

    Just found out this chemical is also used to make the fake blueberries for blueberry muffins, mixes, cereals. It was mentioned on the documentary Hungry for Change and a google search produced a lot of ingredients lists including Nutrisystem and Betty Crocker muffins.

  18. Karen says:

    I am convinced that these chemicals and food additives/preservatives in the household products (shampoos, conditioners, lotions, toothpastes, etc) and food we eat everyday are causing all these cancers/diseases in this country.

  19. pgblues says:

    So I go to check the label of my organic deodorant. First ingredient listed? Propylene Glycol!

    My faith in the system just dropped another notch, just when I thought it couldn’t go lower.

    • Nancy says:

      I was at a health store today looking for gluten-free personal care products (Celiac and no, I am not self-diagnosed). I was absolutely shocked at the brands with good reputations and the stuff that was in their products. Tom’s of Maine deodorant has propylene glycol listed as the 1st ingredient in their deodorants. I was so shocked…

  20. Donnie says:

    i was just reading some of these coments and thought i would share mine.About a year ago i got to where i could not breath right i mean i was having to catch my breath about 60 times a day i went to the doctor besause i knew something was wrong never smoked in good health but any way he thought i might be allergic to something he didn,t know what gave me prednasone and sure enough the next day i felt like a new man.So i went back to the doctor and told him that thats what it was he said we would never be able to find out exactly what it was but i started reading and conparing ingrediences and i figured it out it was Propylene Glycol and this stuff people it seems like is in everything so watch out its not just your skin it affects.

  21. steve says:

    bought some fat free Byers Ice Cream. I’ve always liked and continue to like Breyers, but this had a bad taste, so I read the ingredients and found propylene-glycol.
    I dumped it and washed out my mouth.
    then scooped up some all natural Breyers, double checked the ingredients, still all natural, but will be more careful when I buy Breyers again.

  22. Jordan says:

    @ Karen:
    The reason why we are getting all these cancers/diseases are not because of the food additives, etc alone. While they may not be helping, the main reasons are pretty simple from a scientific standpoint.

    First, modern medicine and medical practices are allowing the average human to live up to 70 or so years of age, whereas back a hundred years or more, the average person was only living to mid-40s or 50s if all went well. Most of them would die from diseases such as small pox, malaria, etc before they reached what we consider old age. Cancer was not documented then for a couple reasons, but the major one being that most people were not living long enough for their bodies to break down and start producing cancerous cells with old age.

    Second, from an evolutionary standpoint modern medicine is allowing those with weak immune systems, etc to live much longer than normal and spread those more deficient genetic traits (ie natural selection) to their offspring. Back a couple hundred years or more it would have been more difficult for these humans to live to child bearing age or marraige age and thus these genes were not spread as rapidly as they are being preserved today. The more people with deficient immune systems, the more likely our population is to develop cancerous and disease-prone cells.

    While there are a lot of reasons for cancer and disease, and no doubt that preservatives and additives are one of them, you cannot say that they are the sole (or even one of the major!) reasons for higher cancer and disease rates. I would go so far as to say that modern medicine, particularly in the United States, has allowed people to live with less than a quarter of the disease problems of 1800 America or earlier.

    PS food preservatives and additives are also allowing the poorer citizens in growing third world countries to survive and live life at all, so think about that as well.

    –From an Engineer’s perspective, Thanks

  23. kellie says:

    After reading this I have great concerns. I am trying to stop smoking and using e cigarettes which use e juice. The contents of the e juice contains propylene glycerol and glycol. I am worried about this as these e cigarettes havent been tested as of yet therefore would the contents of the e juice be just as bad or worse? Please could somebody give some information about this, are people going to start with a new disease or illness? What effects could these ingredients cause?

  24. kerri says:

    I read that ingredient in a can of Fanta cream soda….and again in my nail polish….

  25. Kim says:

    I love the flavored coffees at Dunkin Donuts, but I have always wondered about the ingredients. Today I was able to read a couple bottles that were sitting on the counter. Propylene glycol was the second ingredient on both bottles. Guess I won’t be drinking flavored coffees anymore.

  26. Barbarah says:

    Seems, any more, if you want to be ‘safe’ avoid anything that comes with a label and grow what you can for yourself. I have YET to see an apple on my tree with an ingredient or warning label! OK, so we can’t live on apples alone, but you get the idea– the FDA is NOT our friend!!

  27. Yomarie says:

    “Many fast-food chains use a food additive called propylene glycol, which is also used in antifreeze. It adds moisture to food, keeping it frozen, in addition to enhancing flavor. For example, it’s used to keep the lettuce on your sandwiches crispy and ice cream from melting.”
    From: The Dr. Oz show

  28. Tim van Vliet says:

    Stumbeled upon this artical searching on Propylene Glycol on google. Because the electric cigarettes use this swell…..

    Doesnt sound good pumping this in your lungs….

  29. Sammyandjon says:

    I have been using electronic cigarettes for three months in an effort to stop my nasty smoking habit. So far so good. I thought I ought to check on the contents of the e-liquid to assess the possible health risks – although, to be honest, they could hardly be worse than smoking.

    I was surprised to find that the main ingredients are propylene glycol and/or glycerine and nicotine (which I sort of expected). I was very alarmed to find out that the liquid also contained dihydrogen monoxide.

    This is not labelled. It can be extremely dangerous and has been shown to cause rapid death in certain circumstances and high dosage.

    Further research showed that it is present in a huge number of foodstuffs, cosmetics (including my herbal organic shampoo), pharmaceuticals, drinks (even my favourite organic health drinks) and other products. For example, it is added to concentrated mixes in the soda dispensers in all fast food joints.

    Why is this tolerated by the FDA.

  30. rick says:

    Its also found as the third listed ingredient in the Mio drink additives

  31. anonymous says:

    I saw this article pulled out my bottle of what I THOUGHT was natural and safe deoderant, Tom’s of Maine. This chemical was THE first ingredient on the list . So frustrating. I had previously purchased a hand made deoderant from Crunchy Betty which I loved but it wasnt ordor fighting enough for me and it also have me a rash. I thought the rash would pass. .. so I tried to use it more than a month. Eventually had to stop and that’s when I switched to Tom’s *sigh*. My search for a good natural deoderant continues.