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Propylene Glycol

Irritancy: 0
Comedogenicity: 0

Quick Facts

  • It's a helper ingredient that improves the freeze-thaw stability of products
  • It's also a solvent, humectant and to some extent a penetration enhancer
  • It has a bad reputation among natural cosmetics advocates but cosmetic scientists and toxicology experts do not agree (read more in the geeky details section)

Geeky Details

Propylene Glycol (PG) is a colorless liquid, whose main job, usually, is to improve the so-called freeze-thaw stability of the products. This means that it makes sure that a product doesn’t freeze or melt in low or high temperatures. To achieve this, small amounts - usually less than 2% - is used. 

Other functions of PG include being a humectant (helps skin attract water), being a solvent for other ingredients and being a penetration enhancer.

If you google PG or you like to read around on sites advocating natural cosmetics you might have read some really scary info about this ingredient. The two most common accusations are that it’s a strong skin irritant and that it modifies the skin to allow toxins to penetrate it.

As for the first one, yes PG can be a skin irritant if used 100% on your skin, but so can many things in their pure, 100% form. Think about salt. It’s not the same if you try to eat it in itself or if you put a pinch of it on your food. So PG used in small amounts in cosmetics is just fine according to every credible scientist and toxicology expert. 

As for the second thing (that PG allows toxins to get through our skin) it is somewhat true that PG might help some ingredients to penetrate the skin better. But it does not work so that a tiny amount of PG allows all the bad stuff to go right into our blood. English cosmetic chemist, Colin wrote a very good post about this. He writes that the skin is very good at keeping things out and getting some good ingredients into it is actually not easy. According to his experience PG is not a very good penetration enhancer and fairly large (10-25%) amount is needed for this function. But more than 10% can be irritating, so it’s very rare that a cosmetic product contains this large amount. 

The scientists at the Beauty Brains are even more accepting of PG. They write that PG is safe for ingestion  (it can be a food additive!) AND safe for use in injected drugs, so it’s unlikely to cause any problems in a topical cosmetic product applied on intact skin.

All in all, PG is a helper ingredient and is not especially good for your skin. But used in small (<5%) amounts it’s absolutely fine, not poisonous and there is no reason to be afraid of it. 

If you would like to read some more about PG here is the opinion of skin care expert, Paula Begoun, cosmetic chemists Colin and the Beauty Brains - all really good info on the topic. 

Products with Propylene Glycol

Evidence Skin Care Reverse C Serum Feel Beauty Restored Self Warming Clay Mask G&G teint uniforme Lightening Beauty Oil Kiehl’s Powerful Strength Line-Reducing Concentrate L'oreal Revitalift Derm Intensives 10% Pure Vitamin C Serum Mario Badescu Vitamin C Serum Obagi Professional-C™ Serum 10% Obagi Professional-C™ Serum 15% Obagi Professional-C™ Serum 20% Paula's Choice Resist Bha 9 Prai Champagne Caviar Skin Renewal Serum QEI+ Concentrated Brightening Serum Gold Serious Skincare Pure-Pep Peptide Concentrate A'pieu Nonco Tea Tree Stick Anne Semonin Super Active Serum Avon Nutraeffects Brightening Toner Be Better Age Defying Vitamin C Serum BeRich Burnova Gel Plus Snow Algae Beauté Pacifique Body Lotion Dry Skin Bielenda Professional 10% Azelaic Acid Face Serum Biobellus Gel Bioregenerador Biologique Recherche Creme Adn Elastine Marine Collagene Marin Biologique Recherche Creme Dermopurifiante Biologique Recherche Creme Placenta Body Drench Hydrating Sheet Mask Boots Tea Tree Witch Hazel Back Spray CNP Laboratory A Clean All Control Moisturizer Calypso Calypso Once A Day Sun Protection Lotion With Spf 30 Calypso Calypso Once A Day Sun Protection Lotion With Spf 40 Carthage Hydra Expert Gel De Agua - Hidratación Intensa Celeteque Acne Serum Christian Breton Liftox Anti-Wrinkle Eye Serum Clarins Beauty Flash Balm Clean & Clear Dual Action Moisturiser Colbert MD Illumino Anti-Aging Brightening Mask Comfort Zone Skin Regimen Lift Eye Cream Comfort Zone Skin Regimen Microalgae Essence Cos De BAHA Azelaic Acid 10% Serum Delia Creator | Lash And Brow Enhancing Serum Deliplus Oh, Qué Piel Micropeeling Regenerador Noche Dermaceutic Tri Vita C30 Dermaviduals Green Tea Extract Dr Dennis Gross C+ Collagen Mist Perfect Skin Set & Refresh Dr Dennis Gross Ferulic + Retinol Serum Triple Correction Eye Serum Dr Dennis Gross Ferulic + Retinol Triple Correction Eye Serum Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta® Pore Perfecting & Refining Serum ENN Pre Game - Pre Primer Toner Eau Thermale Avène Cleanance Mat Mattifying Emulsion Elemis Papaya Enzyme Peel Elemis Pro-Collagen Advanced Eye Treatment