What Is It?
Propylene glycol, also known as 1,2-propanediol, is a synthetic (i.e., man-made) alcohol that attracts/absorbs water. It is a viscous, colorless liquid, which is nearly odorless but possesses a faintly sweet taste. Propylene glycol is one of the most widely used ingredients in cosmetics and personal care products, including facial cleansers, moisturizers, bath soaps, shampoos and conditioners, deodorants, shaving preparations, and fragrances. In addition to its use as an ingredient in cosmetic and personal care products, it is used in numerous food items such as beer, packaged baked goods, frozen dairy products, margarine, coffee, nuts, and soda. It is also used as an inactive ingredient (e.g., solvent) in many drugs. FDA has approved its use at concentrations as high as 98% in drugs applied to the skin and 92% in drugs taken orally.
Why is it used in cosmetics and personal care products?
Because propylene glycol attracts water it functions as a humectant and is used in moisturizers to enhance the appearance of skin by reducing flaking and restoring suppleness. Other reported uses include skin-conditioning agent, viscosity-decreasing agent, solvent, and fragrance ingredient.
Propylene glycol was reported to be used in 14,395 products, according to 2019 data in U.S. FDA’s Voluntary Cosmetic Registration Program (VCRP).
It’s interesting to note that in the human body, propylene glycol is metabolized into lactic acid, which occurs naturally when muscles are exercised. Propylene glycol is used to create artificial smoke or fog used in fire-fighting training and in theatrical productions.
CIR: In 2012, the U.S. Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel reviewed the available literature and safety data for propylene glycol as used in cosmetics and personal care products. They concluded it is safe for use in cosmetic products when formulated to be non-irritating to skin.
FDA: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) includes propylene glycol on its list of substances considered Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) for direct addition to food. It is also permitted by the FDA as an indirect food additive for use as a defoaming agent.
NTP: In 2003, the National Toxicology Program’s (NTP) Center for the Evaluation of Risk to Human Reproduction (CERHR) Expert Panel reviewed the reproductive and developmental effects potential of propylene glycol and concluded there is “negligible concern for reproductive or developmental toxicity to humans.”
European Union (EU)
Propylene glycol is listed on the EU’s Inventory of Cosmetic Ingredients (CosIng) and its use as a cosmetic ingredient is not restricted in any way according to the general provisions of the Cosmetics Regulation of the European Union.