Propylene Glycol: Safe or Risky?

Propylene glycol has been the topic of hot debate in the skin care industry, particularly the natural skin care industry, for the past year or so.  So what is it really?  What are the potential health consequences?  Have there been studies done?  

Propylene glycol is a petroleum-derived alcohol commonly found in: 
  • makeup
  • shampoo
  • deodorant
  • detangler
  • styling mousse
  • cleansing cream
  • mascara
  • soap
  • skin cream
  • bubble bath
  • baby powder
  • conditioner
  • toner 
  • after shaves
  • baby wipes - yeah
as well as: 
  • tire sealant
  • rubber cleaner
  • de-icer 
  • stain removers
  • fabric softener
  • degreaser
  • paint
  • adhesives
  • wallpaper stripper
It acts as a solvent (binding agent), surfactant (industrial grade cleanser), and as a humectant (wetting agent found in lotions and hair conditioners).  It easily penetrates the skin, and can weaken the cellular structure.  The EPA actually warns factory workers to avoid skin contact in order to prevent brain, liver and kidney abnormalities.  It's also the main ingredient in anti-freeze.  If you were to buy this from a supplier in it's pure form, that supplier is required to supply you with the MSDS (material safety data sheet) report, which contains the following cautionary warning: "If on skin, thoroughly wash with soap and water!"

Propylene glycol has been linked to such issues as dermatitis (skin irritation), auto toxicity, kidney damage, and liver abnormalities, throat irritation, headaches, muscle aches, necrosis (cell death), vomiting, respiratory failure, coma, convulsions, and in the most extreme cases, death.  It has been shown to be toxic to human cells in cultures.  (Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, Jan. 1987

Personally, if I was prescribed a medication with these possible side effects, I think I'd rather just tough through that cold or flu. 

Because propylene glycol is said to only cause "major health problems" in large doses (you mean like having it present in every product you put on your skin every day of your life?), it's not just humans that are affected either.  Propylene glycol is an approved food additive for dog food under the category of animal feed and is generally recognized as safe for dogs.  I don't know about everyone else, but my pets are like my kids, and I would never let my child consume this. 

While many studies have been conducted, results have been largely contradictory.  I'm of the belief that it's not worth the risk to find out tomorrow what we don't know today.  Think of all the instances where we've thought something was safe, or didn't show adverse side effects, yet 10 years later, we find out that said substance can kill you?  It took 20 years after cigarettes were causing cancer for the FDA to acknowledge that they were a health risk. 

For more informatio, please visit the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry website.

Namaste -

RedSunflower Designs

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