Medically reviewed by Minimalist Health Specialist -  Written by Aheli Sen (Fashion & Beauty Expert)  on 10th Oct 2020

All That You Should Know Propylene Glycol For Skincare

Know Propylene Glycol For Skincare

A fast net search of propylene glycol and what comes up would scare us off. Much like net searches on health conditions, the search on propylene glycol brings up the words “toxic,” “carcinogenic,” and more.

I mean, isn’t the word carcinogenic enough? However, it is an ingredient that is actively part of most of our skincare and animal studies have not shown it as carcinogenic.

It is also present in our food and other products, but let us stick to skin products here.

So why don’t we rationalize what's good and bad here? Are there any cons?

What to do and what not to do while using propylene glycol on the skin? Let us delve into it. 

First things first, let us look at the qualities of the ingredient. 


1. Ingredient Type – Preservative, Emollient, Solvent and Humectant.
2. Benefits – It is a humectant (an ingredient that attracts and locks water).
3. Skin Type – Any skin type looking for some hydration and smoothness.
4. How Often to Use – Can be used regularly. However, you should test if you're allergic to this product.
5. Works With – No specific list of other ingredients that it works well with, as it has many functions.
6. Does Not Work With – Works well with most ingredients, as mentioned above.
7. Break down Period - Propylene glycol breaks down in the body, 48 hours within the application.
8. WHO - Per to the World Health Organization, with regular intake of Propylene, it is estimated at 25 mg per kg body weight.
9. Antifreeze - Propylene glycol fulfills the duties of antifreeze when used in food, chemicals and other products. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has declared propylene glycol as a safe additive or preservative for food.
10. Lactic Acid – It is interesting to state that propylene glycol is metabolized to form lactic acid in the human body, which occurs naturally when muscles are exercised.
11. Main Ingredient - Propylene glycol has been reported to be used in 14,395 products per the 2019 data of the U.S. FDA’s Voluntary Cosmetic Registration Program

So what is propylene glycol, and why is it a part of most of our skincare? 

Propylene glycol is a water-soluble ingredient that is colorless and odorless. This makes it perfect for skincare.

It is a synthetic ingredient made from water being added to propylene oxide obtained from petroleum products.

It is used in creams, lotions, serums, shampoos, and more personal care items as it is a humectant, a preservative, and is entirely water solvent. It is also a classic preservative. 

Difference Between Propylene Glycol & Ethylene Glycol

Ethylene glycol is often mistaken for propylene glycol, even though they have completely different attributes and structures. Yes, both are used for antifreeze, but ethylene glycol is a lot more toxic than propylene glycol.

Ethylene glycol is considered harmful at times for the skin because of its toxicity. Whereas, propylene glycol has a very low level of toxicity that only helps skin without causing any damage, lest one is allergic to the ingredient. It is the reason why most cosmetic products have this ingredient

Propylene Glycol’s Skin Benefits:

1. Humectant (Absorbs Water):

Propylene glycol is a humectant when its concentration level is low. It secures water to the outer layer of the skin and locks it there. Thus, the cosmetics products that have Propylene Glycol are great for skin hydration and resolving the skin’s dull appearance and dry feeling. 

2. Moisturizing Element 

Propylene Glycol is a humectant, moisturizes the skin and imparts the skin with a smooth, non-sticky feeling. 

3. Slows Aging Down 

We start aging after a point in our lives because with the advancement of life, our skin loses its natural moisturizing factor. The skin starts looking dull and becomes saggy, and wrinkles form.

Propylene glycol provides moisture or substitutes the natural moisturizing factor of the skin; thus, it helps slow down aging.  

4. Enhances Effect Of Cosmetics

Apart from having and imparting its unique benefits, propylene glycol also absorbs other active components in cosmetics. It enhances and simplifies penetration of the ingredient through the skin. This helps the cosmetic work better and is one of the biggest reasons it is used. 

5. Prevents Loss of Water

Propylene Glycol is an emollient that creates a protective layer on the skin. This prevents loss of water and results in healthy-looking, smooth skin. 

6. Acne Help 

Anything that cures acne is a hit, and so is propylene glycol!

Unlike many other products that do not help breakouts, propylene glycol being a water component with no oil, helps calm the skin down. It imparts moisture without making the skin feel oily and, thus, helps combat acne. It also helps skin heal and fades out acne marks. 

How to Use Propylene Glycol

As Dr. Jennifer Herrmann, MD, FAAD, explains it, as propylene glycol is present in so many products, there is no one way to use it. Instead, she recommends using products that contain the ingredient per the suggestion or prescription of one’s dermatologist or per manufacturer’s instruction.

As far as how often one should use it or how much of it to use, Herrmann states that propylene glycol is considered safe, even when consumed in relatively large quantities. 

  • Some skincare products with propylene glycol may need priming prior to usage. 
  • For a few products, you may have to test the product well before use. 
  • Read the manufacturer’s instructions on the product label carefully to avoid any unfortunate reaction. 
  • In case of doubts regarding Propylene Glycol usage for specific skin problems, consult your dermatologist. 
  • If you're using it for a particular concern, the application of the same is suggested only to the affected region of the skin as directed in the label or by the dermatologist. 
  • The amount and the frequency of usage can vary. It depends on your skin issue and the product. For example, if you are looking for something to cure rough and dry hands, the doctor might suggest you apply the product after washing your hands. 
  •  If you have skin burn issues, first consult your doctor to understand if the product can be applied to your burns.

    Here is an easy listing of what to do and what not to do while using a product that has Propylene Glycol. 

Important Pointers To Keep In Mind 

To understand if you're allergic to any ingredients, conduct a patch test. After applying a product containing an ingredient you may be allergic to, don't ignore this.  


  • Do follow the instructions on the product before application. Best not to mix with products without a dermatologist's suggestion, just as with any other medicines. 
  • Do apply the amount of quantity that can be used and not more than that.  
  • Do apply just once or a maximum twice a day or per prescription.


Do make use of the product only in the affected region of the skin.

Around sensitive areas like the nasal region and eyes, avoid using products.

Do not overuse the ingredient more than has been prescribed to avoid mishaps. 


Propylene glycol is relatively safe to use. However, few regions of the body with skin conditions might get further affected due to the application of the same.  

An application of Propylene Glycol on irritated skin can further harm the skin. Thus, it is best to consult one’s doctor before application, especially if you have any skin problems.

Also, conducting a patch test before use in case of allergies is a must. 

Propylene Glycol Side Effects On Skin & Precautions 

1. Industrial Form - Propylene Glycol is obtained from petroleum, which leads to the concerns if it is carcinogenic (cancer-causing). Yes, at the beginning of the article, it is mentioned that it is not so. Still, one must remember that cosmetic-grade petrolatum and commercially used petroleum are very different from each other.

Thus, the level of toxicity in propylene glycol is almost negligible and safe for skincare.

2. Eczema - People with eczema should not be using propylene glycol-based cosmetics to worsen the skin condition.

3. Allergy - Trying a little amount of the product on your arms before you use it regularly is the way to go. If propylene glycol does not suit you or causes allergy, discontinue its usage.

4. Irritation - Studies suggest a continuous application of propylene glycol around the eye and nasal region may cause some irritation. 

To Wrap Up:

It is always amazing to know the chemicals you put on the skin. Even though Propylene Glycol for skin is mostly not a debatable topic, every pro and con have been listed to give a clear overview of the ingredient. There is not any major concern about using Propylene Glycol. However, consulting the doctor is most definitely the best way forward.