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Dispelling the mistruths about Propylene Glycol

What exactly is propylene glycol?

Propylene glycol (PG) is a clear, colorless liquid with the consistency of syrup. It is practically odorless and tasteless. It is hygroscopic (attracts water), has low toxicity and outstanding stability, as well as high flash and boiling points, low vapor pressure and broad solvency. These properties make PG ideal for a wide array of applications including a variety of consumer products and food products, including deodorants, pharmaceuticals, moisturizing lotions, and fat-free ice cream and sour cream products.

What does it do?

Propylene glycol helps form the base for many melt and pour soap bases, and toiletry products. Sodium stearate (soap) is the ingredient that causes these products to “gel” or take on a form that is more viscous or solid. Once suspended in a gel, the other ingredients in these products can be properly applied in the manner consumers expect.

What's all the hype that PG is unsafe and causes cancer?

Along with other glycols and glycerol, this is a humectant or humidifying and delivery ingredient not just for cosmetic products, but also for ingested products like food and pharmaceuticals. It is on the US Food and Drug Administration's list of ingredients which are Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) and is recognized by the World Health Organization as safe for use.

There are Web sites and spam e-mails stating that propylene glycol is really industrial antifreeze and that it is the major ingredient in brake and hydraulic fluids. Such observations are well-intended but ultimately not very informative. It is ethylene glycol, for example, which is a more common ingredient in antifreeze and which is, in fact, highly toxic. These sites also state that tests show it to be a strong skin irritant. They further point out that the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) on propylene glycol warns users to avoid skin contact because systemically (in the body) it can cause liver abnormalities and kidney damage. As ominous as this sounds, it is so far from the reality of cosmetic and soap formulations that almost none of it holds any water or poses real concern. It is important to realize that the MSDS sheets are talking about 100% concentrations of a substance. Even water and salt have frightening comments regarding their safety according to the MSDS. In cosmetics propylene glycol is used in only the smallest amounts to keep products from melting in high heat or freezing when it is cold. It also helps active ingredients penetrate the skin. In the minute amounts used in cosmetics and soaps, it is not a concern in the least. Women are not suffering from liver problems because of propylene glycol in cosmetics. And finally, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, within the Public Health Services Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, "studies have not shown these chemicals [propylene or the other glycols as used in cosmetics] to be carcinogens" (Source: www.atsdr.cdc.gov).

Best Advice....

Don't believe everything you read online or in spam emails. Know your sources and do your own investigative research when questioning any ingredient. If you still have concerns about PG after reading this article, we suggest ordering our Extra Clear Soap Base or Hemp Soap Base. Neither of these bases contain PG (propylene glycol).


* Denise Marks is the president of Nouveau Designs LLC which offers one of the most extensive selection of quality soap supplies and soap molds. She is an experienced soap maker and owner of one of the largest soap mold manufacturing companies worldwide. Visit GoPlanetEarth.com for a complete listing of soap making supplie or more FREE reprint articles.

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