What are PEGs?
If you see PEGs written on a cosmetic product label, it’s referring to polyethylene glycol. This is not a single ingredient, rather a group of ethylene glycol polymers used to moisturize, stabilize, and enhance the penetration of other ingredients. The acronym PEG is often followed by a number which dictates its molecular weight. The lower the number the easier it is to permeate the skin surface.
Why are PEGs controversial?
In a report published in the International Journal of Toxicology by the cosmetic industry’s own Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) committee, PEGs were found to contain problematic impurities, including ethylene oxide and 1,4 dioxane, many of which are linked to cancer. However, these impurities were put down to irresponsible manufacturing, not the PEGs themselves.
How has the cosmetics industry responded?
Responsible manufacturers have taken steps to remove all impurities and their by products and can now prove the PEGs they use – for example PEG 10 dimethicone – are safe for skin.
A reputable skincare product may contain PEGs. Just make sure that there is no ethylene oxide or 1,4 dioxane. These should have been stripped out during processing. If in doubt, ask the manufacturer for documentation from the chemical manufacturer to prove that.
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Dive deeper into our ingredient glossary for full transparency.
- International Journal of Toxicology, September-October 2018 Supplement, pages 10S-60S; November-December 2014 Supplement, pages 13S-39S; and September-October 2012 Supplement, pages 169S-244S
- Toxicological Research, June 2015, pages 105-136
- Skin Pharmacology and Physiology, January 2015, pages 12-21
- Drug Metabolism and Disposition, January 2007, pages 9-16
- Experimental Dermatology, October 2006, pages 801-807
- Toxicology, October 2005, issues 1-2, pages 1-38
- Archives of Dermatological Research, June 2001, pages 302-307