What are PEG’s? Not the kind you hang on the line, these PEG’s are found commonly in our cosmetics and personal care products used on teeny little babies, to the older generation and everyone in between. But what are they?

PEG is an acronym for Polyethylene Glycol, also known as macrogol or E1521. It is a product of condensed ethylene oxide and water that can have various derivatives and functions.

The primary concern with PEG compounds is that ethylene oxide is used in their production in a process called ethoxylation. This process can cause contamination with ethylene oxide, a chemical associated with multiple kinds of cancer. Additionally, ethoxylated ingredients can also be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, which is also a carcinogen. Neither ethylene oxide nor 1,4-dioxane are intentionally added ingredients, which means that neither will be listed on ingredient labels, but could still be present in the product.
Some PEG’s are also tainted with heavy metals like arsenic, lead, cobalt, nickel, iron, and cadmium. PEG’s are considered penetration enhancers, which are substances that make it easier for other ingredients to pass through the skin. When PEG’s are found in formulations containing other toxic ingredients, those ingredients could more readily enter the body.

PEG’s are utilised in cosmetic products as surfactants, emulsifiers, cleansing agents, humectants and skin conditioners.

Currently, the cosmetic ingredient review (In AUS) deems PEG-20 and PEGylated oils safe for cosmetic use in up to 27% of ingredients according to the results of relevant studies. Some PEG’s (like PEG 100) are not assessed for safety in cosmetics and are not to be used on damaged or broken skin.

PEG/PPG-17/6 copolymers should be further studied for safety.

PEG’s come in all different numbers with some of the more common ones being PEG-20 glyceryl triisostearate, PEG-40 & PEG-60 both hydrogenated castor oil, some can be palm oil derived or coconut oil derived too.

Long-term exposure to ethylene oxide can cause serious health consequences, including damage to the nervous system. In fact, this chemical was used as a nerve gas in World War I.

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