What is it?Propylene glycol is a derivative of natural gas. It 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.
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?Although natural gas is an abundant resource, it is a non-renewable one. Because it is a central part of our mission to act in an environmentally responsible manner, we investigated renewable alternatives and eventually replaced propylene glycol with a vegetable glycerin in 1993. The 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 experienced that vegetable glycerin actually seemed to facilitate the growth of odor-causing bacteria. Although 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 deodorants and restored the product to its original propylene glycol base.
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 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 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 informative. It is ethylene glycol, for example, which is a more common ingredient in antifreeze and which 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. For the record, the MSDS for the propylene glycol we use contains no indications of carcinogenicity or chronic exposure effects. The concentrated form of the ingredient can, however, cause temporary reddening, stinging or swelling when it comes in contact with the eyes or skin. This indication does not mean that a product formulated with the ingredient will have irritating properties. 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.
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