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Propylene Glycol

Today's Chemical:
Propylene Glycol

EWG Risk Score:

What is it?
A skin conditioning agent, solvent, humectant.

Why is it a risk?
Propylene Glycol, among other things, is a penetration enhancer, meaning it's a carrier for other chemicals, bringing them into your skin and directly to your bloodstream. It's also a suspected immune system toxin, neurotoxin, reproductive toxin, respiratory toxin, and skin toxin.

What type of products is it found in?
Over 7,800 products! Lotions, shower gels, shampoos, conditioners, cosmetics, deodorants, personal lubricants, sunscreens, styling gels, and hair colors.

A few companies that use this chemical:

  • Tom's of Maine
  • Kiss My Face
  • Earth Science
  • Blue Lizard
  • Willow Lake
  • Aveeno
  • Jason
  • Rogaine

Steph's Opinion:
For some reason, a lot of the "natural" brands think that it's okay to use propylene glycol. Despite the fact that it's anti-freeze! Not only is it anti-freeze, but it's used at the airport as de-icing fluid! After my appearance on Studio 5 a few months ago, a pilot wrote in to the station Here's what he said:

Yesterday, during your segment with Bubble and Bee, I had to shake my head when you talked about how some shower body washes contain the chemical propylene glycol. Your guest stated that it is a "penetration enhancer" and that it will go directly to your blood stream. I'm and airline pilot, based out of SLC, and the de-icing fluid that all airlines use to remove snow, frost and ice from their aircraft is mix of heated propylene glycol and water. For us,
the propylene glycol is listed as a hazardous material. If you get it on your skin and don't wash it off, it will irritate the skin, and you will get ill when it is absorbed.

I get so many customers who say that certain commercial deodorants that are supposedly natural cause underarm rashes. I tell them it's most likely the propylene glycol breaking down their skin cells and causing irritation.


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Reader Comments (17)

Would like to add that it is also in food and some medicines - I have found it listed in bottled tartar sauce, some children's snack foods "fruit rolls" and in liquid allergy medicines for children. So scary.

Mon, June 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle

I am really grateful to have this website to refer to. Having a good explanation to refer to with all these different chemicals is useful. I also love the explanations you give with them. It certainly makes it easier to understand! It's really hard to find products that don't have these nasty chemicals in the. How deceiving they are when they list them as natural and yet it's ok if they are toxic.

Mon, June 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVicky

Can you talk a bit more about Propylene Glycol. I've never heard something really bad about it, and I find silly when somebody relates a chemical with industrial things like anti-freeze, maybe that stuff might be bad for us but also, maybe not because that certain chemical. I even read of many dermatologists and estheticians that recomend products with propylene glycol. I know that is not a good thing, but I still can't understand much about it, why is a bad thing?

Mon, August 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEmma

I just recently spotted this ingredient in dog food and have seen it in store bakery items.

Fri, September 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDebbie

I can see how the association of a chemical used for de-icing and industrial processes with stuff we put on our skin seems distasteful but is it necessarily dangerous?? - nothing said here suggests it actually is.

Am I right in thinking e-cigarettes are pure Propylene Glycol; people actually breathe in this stuff several times a day. It's also the main constituent of dry ice (the fake smoke used at all good concerts!) - surely if there was even a sniff of it being any the things suggested above no government would allow it?? Or will regular concert goers and ecig puffers be the class actions of the future... something smells, and I'm just not sure it's the propylene glycol.

And lets face it, isn't every chemical dangerous in large enough doses, even oxygen and water..

If there was something out there potentially dangerous to health I would be the first one to believe it, as my faith in the powers that be to put my health before profit is quite low, but seriously, really so harmful?.. I just need the empirical data in cases like this - lab experiments with rats/mice/human studies, chemical analysis..references references references... please. xx

Wed, February 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSimon H

They put that fill-the-blank in psychotropic medicines! Cure? Pfft!

Mon, February 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCed

In need of help!  My son has some pretty bad food allergies & needs to take a daily allergy med.  At the pharmacy I am comparing different ones all of which have chemicals that I would not use in cosmetics, but I need to choose 1.  How can I find out which chemicals are worse?  For instance, 1 med has propylene glycol & sodium benzoate whereas the other has propylparaben & red dyes.  How can I find out which is safer?  Thank you so much!

Tue, April 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMeg

I would go with the propylene glycol + sodium benzoate over the propylparaben and red dyes. Drugs are such a hard call because they are loaded with stuff like this, but sometimes, they're necessary. It's all about benefits vs. the risks. It sounds like the allergy medication is something that your son needs, so, there may be some necessary "evils" that are associated with it, especially if the allergies are severe or life-threatening.

Thu, April 5, 2012 | Registered Commenter[Stephanie Greenwood]

@ Simon. An allergy can develop at any time. I learned this lesson the hard way. I am a burn injury survivor. Four years after my injury I began to have break-down of my skin graphs in a few places, like the individual cell walls were weeping out fluid. It was sporadic. Stress aggravated as well. I began reading the labels of every product I used in an attempt to find the common denominator. What I found was propylene glycol. I eliminated it by finding products without propylene glycol as a preservative. I'll tell you how I know for certain propylene glycol was the cause of this very painful condition. I had an
itch develop on my right shin. I could not take a benadryl because of driving my kids to and from a night class. When I got home finally ( by this time the itch was pushing insanity) I look to my medicine cabinet for relief. Ahhh! Solarcaine spray. I read the label, calamine- good, aloe vera- good, lidocaine- good. So I spray it on my shin and there is relief, wonderful! I wake up the next morning all the skin which I'd sprayed the night before had sloughed off like removing a sock, it had peeled off completely. I check the label again and find there are two lists of ingredients, active and non-active. Propylene glycol was the second ingredient in the non-active ingredients list. It was not a problem for me until I developed an allergy to it but now it's dangerous.

Thu, August 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBarbara

Well, I don't know if this counts as empirical evidence but, here's what Medline has to say about "antifreeze poisoning"

It doesn't go into what amount is toxic (one sip, a few glugs?) but, I think it's interesting that propylene glycol is listed as one of the poisonous ingredients.

Also, even if small amounts are considered "safe", there could be cumulative effects as small amounts build up in tissue over time.

Thu, September 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

I would like to respond to Simon H. post where he stated "surely if there was even a sniff of it being any the things suggested above no government would allow it??"

Cigarettes contain approximately six hundred ingredients. Four thousand chemicals are created when the cigarette is burned. Many of these chemicals are poisonous and at least fifty of these chemicals cause cancer. Smoking cigarettes cause stroke, heart disease, lung disease and cancer.

Here are a list of some of the ingredients in cigarettes: Acetone, found in nail polish remover, and acetic acid, an ingredient in hair dye, butane, used in lighter fluid, formaldehyde, an embalming fluid, and carbon monoxide, a poisonous gas released in car exhaust fumes, and nicotine,a powerful and deadly drug when used in its purest form. It is used as a main ingredient in insecticides.

So, to answer your question, yes, the government would allow it.

(American Lung Association)

Sun, October 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterWanda

Better life through industrial chemicals?? Not! I personally have been plagued by rashes of unknown origin. I opted to do skin testing through my dermatologist. I was surprised to find so many chemicals that I used for years but was now highly allergic to. One of the major culprits was Propylene Glycol. I never thought to look at the ingredients of the products I use daily on my body until the testing. It was in every major brand of body care products I used. I've even seen it listed in food products. While common antifreeze is ethylene glycol it closely resembles propylene glycol which is considered non-toxic at this point. Obviously neither of these are naturally occurring substances. Do you really want to bathe or ingest either?

Tue, December 3, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdmbnj

I'm researching why Monistat 3 has caused a burning fire on my most sensitive skin! This is not the first time I've had a reaction to a vaginal yeast medication. I have just discovered that propylene glycol is used in the medication as a skin "delivery system" assisting the miconazole penetrate of the skin. I'm posting this as a warning to any others out there who might be sensitive to propylene glycol.
thanks for the information!!

Fri, August 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth

I was given Green Smoke e cigarettes as part of an NHS initiative to stop smoking and I smoked them for 2 years, until I made the connection between e cigarettes - propylene glycol and physical illness, weakness, burning in my knees and then rest of my body, including my brain!! ....

Several years ago I had a similar reaction - burning shin bones, when I was given a blood transfusion of a chemical for osteoporosis. I had to stop taking the tablets as felt my stomach lining was being damaged, so the kind consultant sent me for the blood transfusion. It took 3 hours and when I got home I could not walk, was a virtual cripple for about 12 weeks.. When I did some further research on the chemical used to treat osteoporosis I found that it is an industrial cleaner, that no long term trials have been carried out and that this treatment makes bones look good on a dexa scan. The doctor who wrote about this predicted a world wide epidemic of brittle bone disease in about 20 years time.

.. I suspected propylene glycol was the culprit here, so I do appreciate what has been written above. What I would like to know is how long it will take me to get the substance and its effects out of my system, if this is possible. Does anyone know? Thank you.

Tue, April 21, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSusan G.

Oh I'm sorry to hear it, Susan! It's really difficult to say how long it will take to detoxify from the substance; any symptoms should be discussed with a qualified healthcare professional to make sure that there isn't something else going on.

Tue, May 12, 2015 | Registered Commenter[Stephanie Greenwood]

I would love to hear your thoughts on the propylene glycol derived from natural gas vs a 100% vegetable derived alternative. Is there a difference in its effect on the body? Toms of Maine explains their use of it here, My daughter (who has sensitive skin) uses this brand of deodorant with no issue. While I've been using a deodorant by Earth Science and have been experiencing extremely sensitive armpits. I've stopped its use as I can't seem to apply it or shave without a lot of irritation. Thank you!

Sat, October 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterTara

I would simply like to add that while propylene glycol is in antifreeze it is only in eco friendly antifreeze whereas the toxic type is ethylene glycol based. Also, it is a good antifreeze for the same reasons it is a good airplane deicer. And again, it has a preferable environmental profile to ethylene glycol based antifreezes and will not cause corrosion like salt based deicing solutions. Propylene glycol is one of the safest solvents on the market. I would not hesitate to buy products containing it. And for the record it makes no difference whether it is vegetable derived or synthetic so long as there are no other contaminants. Otherwise the two are chemically identical.

Mon, February 29, 2016 | Unregistered Commentera real chemist

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