Skincare Ingredients to Avoid, Part 5: PEGs

Posted on December 12, 2012

Over 50% of your standard beauty products contain polyethylene glycol compounds (PEGs). According to the International Journal of Toxicology (IJT), this chemical has been associated with health problems from severe skin irritation to breast cancer, yet the US Department of Health still considers the compound safe for cosmetic applications.

Woman seeks to avoid harmful chemicals in skincare.Potential Risks

PEG is a compound that can be created in many different molecular weights. The smaller forms (PEG 20 – PEG 150) are used in cosmetics and other beauty products while the larger weights are used for everything from plastic consumer goods to oven cleaners.

Since the compounds with the smallest molecular weights have not been proven to cause health problems directly, they are approved for use in skin products. However, hundreds of studies have shown that these chemicals are anything but healthy.

Ethylene Oxide

To begin with, all PEG compounds are derived from ethylene oxide, which is a highly toxic substance and a known carcinogen. Upon testing, the IJT found that traces of ethylene oxide could be found in cosmetics containing polyethylene glycol. Other impurities that were found within the compound include:

  • Lead
  • Iron
  • Cobalt
  • Nickel
  • Cadmium
  • 1,4-dioxane
  • Polycyclic aromatic compounds
  • Arsenic

Although not every one of these elements is toxic, all of them could be harmful if applied directly to the skin. It is perhaps because of these impurities that PEG compounds are known to cause severe irritation to damaged or compromised skin. If applied to skin that is sunburnt or broken, for instance, the chemicals will cause a painful toxic reaction. This fact in itself is evidence that the chemicals are not healthy for the human body.

In addition, the National Toxicology Program has found ethylene oxide and its polyethylene glycol polymers to increase risk of diseases such as uterine and breast cancers, leukemia, brain cancer, and Hodgkins Disease.

Products to Look Out For

The following products commonly contain PEG compounds:

When buying products such as these, read the ingredients carefully for toxic or harmful ingredients. While it is easy to look for the words polyethylene glycol, any ingredient containing the abbreviation “PEG” should be avoided, even if it is paired with other compounds like PEG Stearate. The abbreviated form is often followed by a number such as 100 or 125. It is best to steer clear of all PEGs, including those with lower molecular weights, such as PEG 25.

Look for products which are PEG-Free when you shop for personal care products. You can also find PEG-free personal care products on LivingClean.com.

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