PEGs are a mixture of chemical compounds and include such ingredients as propylene glycol and polyethylene glycol. While PEGs refers to a group of chemical names, PEG is actually an abbreviation for polyethylene glycol. Polyethylene is a commonly used plasticizer. Add glycol and it becomes a viscous liquid used for a variety of reasons in cosmetic products.
PEGs are added to beauty and personal care products as emulsifiers (to keep the product from separating), emmolients (to soften the skin), and surfactants (to make a product foamy). They are also known penetration enhancers, allowing other ingredients and environmental toxins to more easily absorb into the skin.
Another reason to avoid PEGs, other than that you can find perfectly effective and safe emulsifiers, emmolients, and surfactants in natural ingredients…they are often contaminated with such nasties as 1,4-Dioxane and heavy metals. Impurities linked to cancer.
You may not be able to ID contaminants on a product ingredient listing, but you can spot PEGs. Found in skincare, body care, hair care, hair dye, make up, baby care products, and contact lens cleaner, watch for these terms on ingredient listings:
- Propylene Glycol
- Proptylene Glycol
- Ingredients with “eth” in the name, like polyethylene glycol
Contrary to popular belief, neither polyethylene glycol nor propylene glycol are anti-freeze. That’s ethylene glycol. Still, as we can see, there is good reason to use cosmetics free from PEGs. Learn more about identifying harmful ingredients from our Ingredients to Avoid list.
[Image by awaaba.padi at Flickr.com, cc]