Propylene glycol is of the more common substances present in the cheaper more common cosmetics. It is used in skin products to prevent drying & is present in lots of other products applied to the body such as shampoos, lotions, deodorants, hair conditioners, cosmetics & even toothpaste. Interestingly the same substance is also to be present in cigarettes, automobile de-icer, paint, pet foods, brake liquid, anti-freeze, laundry deodorants & some processed foods.
Propylene glycol is an alcohol product from the fermentation of carbohydrates and yeast and there are slightly different versions depending on the use. This means the type found in industrial products is slightly different to that found in makeup.
The American Academy of Dermatologists produced a report in 1991 that indicated that small amounts of the substance in industrial form could cause skin irritation. A Material Safety Data Sheet has been produced on this chemical by the US Department of Health and Human Services that reports it can cause skin and eye irritation as well as headaches, intestinal problems and nausea as a result of significant exposure. Further studies indicate it is possible liver and kidney damage may also result.
Why is it used in cosmetics then?
Propylene glycol is cheap. It enables manufacturers of new low-cost cosmetics to claim their product reduces drying of the skin. The problem is of course that it also interferes with the skins natural processes.
Defending the substance, the PropyleneGlycol.org website states it in used in more than 4000 makeup products, giving lipstick its texture, ensures the foam in shampoo, combines the oil and water found in body lotions and ensures fragrances smell for longer. The site maintains there is very little toxicity in each product and that it is virtually impossible to take in more than very small quantities of propylene glycol.
The substance is employed in the transportation of active ingredients found in cosmetic products. PropyleneGlycol.org relates how the chemical rapidly changes into lactic acid and is excreted in the urine. The site also reports no ill effects from small amounts used in pharmaceuticals. To be fair, the regulatory bodies around the globe have listed the substance to be generally safe; the European Union has restricted its use to mainly non-food applications however.
The ongoing debate has not really addressed the subject of skin irritation. Chemicals that are foreign to the human body should always be treated with care and propylene glycol is no exception. The skin always needs to breathe to be healthy and many cheap cosmetics block the pores, preventing this from happening.
There are a significant number of people who do not wear any makeup whatsoever and the most common reason is skin irritation. Some evidence indicates this may be related to the use of propylene glycol in products.
The use of all natural makeup, often in the guise of mineral cosmetics, overcomes this problem by using natural ingredients to promote skin nutrition as the same time as making the wearer look good.
There seems to be some debate about the dangers or otherwise of propylene glycol, leaving makeup wearers to draw their own conclusions. On balance however it would seem, if you were looking for a healthy makeup for skin, the better choice would be all natural makeup.