Propylene glycol (vegetable derived)

What does it do?

Propylene glycol helps form the base for our deodorants. 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 are the alternatives?

In 2014, Tom’s of Maine became the very first deodorant brand to transition its product line from a propylene glycol derived from natural gas to a 100% vegetable derived alternative. This change was important to Tom’s because while natural gas is an abundant natural resource, it is a non-renewable one. As it is a central part of our mission to act in an environmentally responsible manner, we have been investigating renewable alternatives for decades. We even attempted to replace propylene glycol with vegetable glycerin in 1993. However, complaints started pouring in shortly after the new product hit store shelves. Vegetable glycerin, it would turn out, created an unsatisfactory product. The stick it formed was described as “soft and mushy” and about half our users noticed that vegetable glycerin was less effective at preventing odor. Although, at the time, we were excited to improve the environmental sensitivity of the product, we were not willing to accept the compromised quality of the product. Only a few months after the new formula had been released to market, we voluntarily recalled the remaining deodorant and restored the product to its original propylene glycol base.

With the introduction of a vegetable-based propylene glycol we feel we can deliver the best of both worlds - a high quality product and one that is more environmentally sustainable. The steps taken over the last 20 years to carefully develop this alternative have been in an effort to ensure our customers experience only the highest quality products from Tom’s of Maine. This switch also helps us reduce our dependency on petroleum feedstocks, thus improving our global energy balance and reducing greenhouse gases associated with the production of this ingredient by up to 61%, as compared to the previous method of production based upon natural gas.

What are the risks?

Propylene glycol is considered a safe and appropriate ingredient not just for cosmetic products, but also for ingested products like food (e.g. bakery goods) and pharmaceuticals. It is on the US Food and Drug Administration's list of ingredients which are Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) for direct addition to food, and is recognized by the World Health Organization as safe for use. There have been claims made that propylene glycol is an inappropriate ingredient for cosmetics and foods because it can also be used in products (such as antifreeze) which one would not want to consume. Such observations are well-intended but ultimately not very well-informed. It is ethylene glycol, for example, that is a more common ingredient in antifreeze and is, in fact, highly toxic. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) actually recommends the use of propylene glycol-based antifreeze because it is safer than ethylene glycol should pets accidentally ingest it. Simply because propylene glycol has many different applications does not make all the products which contain it the same. Another strain of criticism of propylene glycol focuses on what is allegedly disclosed by the ingredient's Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS). MSDS information can be found on the Internet, but rarely are viewers given any background or context on how to read one. An MSDS is a safety disclosure which instructs manufacturers and shippers on proper procedures for handling ingredients, for treating accidental exposure, and for cleaning up spills. Even the purest ingredients like mint oils have an MSDS. There is usually no single MSDS for an ingredient, but one for each different form or concentration offered by each ingredient supplier. For ingredients which could be shipped in a liquid or solid form, the MSDS for each form may differ significantly and each has little bearing on what properties the ingredient will have when combined with other ingredients into a formulation. We feel confident that research and a long history of safe usage have shown propylene glycol to be a safe and appropriate ingredient in a deodorant product such as ours.

What is it?

The propylene glycol Tom’s of Maine uses is a derivative of vegetable oil, not the predominantly used petroleum-based derivative. Propylene glycol is commonly used in a variety of consumer products and food products, including deodorants, pharmaceuticals, moisturizing lotions, and fat-free ice cream and sour cream products.

The ingredient that Tom’s of Maine is using in our deodorant is U.S. P. certified which means it meets purity standards that allow for its use in both human and pet foods as well as pharmaceuticals. It is also recognized by USDA as a Biobased Product because it is certified to be sourced from renewable resources as opposed to non-renewable petroleum feedstocks.

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