The Truth You Need To Know About The Safety Of Propylene Glycol

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As with many synthetic substances that make their way into our foods, the opinions on propylene glycol are varied and contradictory. TGH aims to cut through the hype and offer a balanced view, and answer the question. What is the truth about the safety of propylene glycol?

What Is Propylene Glycol?

Propylene Glycol is essentially used as a solvent or surfactant. It is a viscous, colourless, odourless liquid, with a faintly sweet taste. You will find it in a variety of products, from engine coolants, to artificial smoke and even snack foods….and this cross over is what has many people concerned.

Propylene Glycol is also known as:
• 1,2-propanediol,
• 1,2-dihydroxypropane,
• methyl glycol, and
• trimethyl glycol (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry 1997)

It has a low volatility and low toxicity – but how low is acceptable to eat?

One important thing to remember is that propylene glycol is formulated in more than one strength. There is an industrial grade, used in brake fluid, engine coolant, paints and varnishes. And there is also a pharmaceutical grade, which you will find in some cosmetic products as well as some foods. So if you read material that questions how we can consume a compound that is used in enamels, be aware that the two formulations are very different.

But does that mean it’s safe?

How Can We Come Into Contact With Propylene Glycol?

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry gives us a fantastic summary of how we might be exposed to propylene glycol.

Propylene glycol can enter your bloodstream if you breathe air containing mists or vapors from either compound. It can also enter your bloodstream through your skin if you come in direct contact with it and do not wash it off. If you eat products that contain propylene glycol, it may enter your bloodstream. Exposure of the general population to propylene glycol is likely since many foods, drugs, and cosmetics contain it.

Propylene glycol breaks down in the body in about 48 hours. However, studies of people and animals show that if you have repeated eye, skin, nasal, or oral exposures to propylene glycol for a short time, you may develop some irritation.

propylene glycol antifreeze
propylene glycol antifreeze

Is Pharmaceutical Grade Propylene Glycol Safe To Eat And Apply To Our Skin?

The pharmaceutical grade of propylene glycol is of a far lower concentration than the industrial grade. It is commonly used to keep snack foods moist, as it absorbs excess water and maintains moisture. You can recognise it as e-number E1520. It is also used in oral, topical and injectable drugs.

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