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Polyethylene glycol – or PEG, is there anything to be afraid of?

Polyethylene glycol – or PEG, is there anything to be afraid of?

Some substances used in cosmetics are often perceived as harmful, but is it right? Is PEG (Polyethylene Glycol) dangerous to health? A team of experts from the US scientific body CIR (Cosmetic Ingredient Review) confirmed the safety of PEGs in cosmetic products, as published in a 2017 report.


What are PEGs?

PEGs are a large group of compounds used in cosmetics for many purposes. Polyethylene glycol belongs to the group of synthetic polymers that are formed as a result of the polymerization reaction of ethylene oxide. It is a chemical reaction where smaller molecules combine to form a larger molecule, or polymer. The length of the chain in the polymer molecule affects the state of aggregation of PEGs. They can be in liquid, solid or semi-solid form, and their use in the cosmetic industry is wide, yet safe, as they are well studied and their effects on the body are known.


Where do they occur and what is their function?

PEGs can be found in a variety of products, whether in creams, gels, washing liquids, shampoos and in color cosmetics such as foundations, make-up bases, mascaras. They act as emulsifiers, i.e. they allow two immiscible phases, water and fat, to combine to form an emulsion, e.g. a cream. As a washing substance, they work well in gels, washing liquids and shampoos. In addition, they can act as a solubilizer, which allows a substance that is poorly soluble in water, such as a fragrance composition, to be introduced into an aqueous solution. Another interesting function of PEGs is as a humectant – a substance that retains water and moisturises.


PEGs and carcinogenicity

On the Internet you may come across information that PEGs may have carcinogenic effects. This is not true, but it may lead to misconception to suggest that there may be a slight contamination of PEGs with 1,4-dioxane, which is carcinogenic. 1,4-dioxane is formed as a by-product in the manufacturing processes of some cosmetic ingredients, including PEGs, and is prohibited for use in cosmetics in accordance with the Cosmetic Regulation 1223/2009. The US FDA and the Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) have concluded that such little amounts of 1,4-dioxane present in cosmetics do not pose a health risk. In addition, the FDA has confirmed that it does not accumulate in the body and that it evaporates quickly when applied to the skin. Ethylene glycol, on the other hand, is a gas that is removed very quickly in the process of obtaining PEGs.


Safety of Polyethylene Glycol

The safety assessment of PEGs takes into account the current state of scientific knowledge and scientific and technological developments. Their use in cosmetics is harmless to the consumer. Studies have shown that they have good dermatological properties and minimal sensitizing potential. They do not cause skin irritation or inflammation, and are not toxic after oral or dermal application. According to the US Cosmetics Ingredients Review (CIR) Expert Panel, PEGs are not genotoxic, carcinogenic or harmful to reproduction or fetal development.



As you can see, there are many myths about cosmetics and their composition that can be dispelled by drawing knowledge from proven, scientific sources. The infamous opinions about PEGs are not confirmed by any studies or reliable experts, and the level of possible cosmetic contaminants is strictly controlled and subject to a detailed Safety Assessment by the Safety Assessor. PEGs are well studied and their use in cosmetic products is safe.


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