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* Primarily used as an emollient and emulsifier

* Also known as Polyethylene Glycol

* Please read TIA’s article on What Is It: PEGs


PEG is the acronym for Polyethylene Glycol. Various forms of PEG compounds are mixed with fatty acids and fatty alcohols to create a variety of substances that have diverse functions in cosmetics, including acting as surfactants, binding agents (to keep ingredients blended), stabilizers, and emollients (Source). PEG is always followed by a number, which represents the approximate molecular weight of that compound. PEGs are controversial ingredients in cosmetics and beauty products, in part because of their ability to penetrate the skin and be absorbed into the body, or assist other chemicals and ingredients in absorption. According to research, lower molecular weight PEG ingredients were minimally absorbed and higher molecular weight PEGs (PEG-75 and greater) were not absorbed through intact skin.

Despite the many fears regarding PEGs, they are seen as an ingredient in a large number of products because of their diverse properties. In a study published in the Toxicology journal in 2005, entitled "Safety assessment on polyethylene glycols (PEGs) and their derivatives as used in cosmetic products," it was concluded that: "Taking into consideration all available information from related compounds, as well as the mode and mechanism of action, no safety concern with regard to these endpoints could be identified. Based on the available data it is therefore concluded that PEGs of a wide molecular weight range (200 to over 10,000), their ethers (laureths. ceteths, ceteareths, steareths, and oleths), and fatty acid esters (laurates, dilaurates, stearates, distearates) are safe for use in cosmetics."

PEGs are not considered to be irritants or sensitizers, and are CIR and FDA approved for use, but not on broken skin.

Safety Measures/Side Effects:

However. According to a study published in the International Journal of Toxicology, PEGs can contain harmful impurities, including: Ethylene Oxide, known to increase the incidences of uterine and breast cancers and of leukemia and brain cancer, according to experimental results reported by the National Toxicology Program; 1,4-dioxane, a known carcinogen; PAHs, known to increase the risk of breast cancer; lead; iron; and arsenic (Source).

Products and formulas containing PEGs should not be used on broken or irritated skin. Although PEGs are considered safe for use topically on healthy skin, studies showed that patients suffering from severe burns were treated with PEG-based antimicrobial cream; this treatment resulted in kidney toxicity. "The PEG content of the antimicrobial cream was determined to be the causative agent. However, no evidence of systemic toxicity occurred in studies with intact skin. Because of the observation of kidney effects in burn patients, the CIR Expert Panel qualified their conclusion on the safety of the PEG ingredients to state that cosmetic formulations containing these ingredients should not be used on damaged skin" (

The Cosmetics Database reviews each PEG separately based on its molecular weight. Although each PEG carries distinct warnings, the EWG consistently rates PEGs as moderate hazards and notes contamination and toxicity concerns (as stated above).

Recommended Products w/ PEGs:

Folligen Hair and Scalp Nutrient Cream, The Body Shop Hand Protector, Hydropeptide Eye Extreme Dark Circle ConcentrateNIA 24 for Aging Lips

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