Medically reviewed by Minimalist Health Specialist -  Written by Shreya Singh (Pharmacist)  on 01st Oct 2020

Propanediol For Skin: The Versatile Ingredient In Skincare

Propanediol For Skin

The skincare world can be confusing. With uncountable numbers of ingredients used, you can find yourself lost in the bewildering jungle of ingredient lists, where reading a beauty product label can seem like reading a foreign language!

Learning how to decipher the skincare ingredient lists on product labels and knowing whether or not a particular ingredient will irritate your skin can help find the best suitable serums, creams, and lotions according to your skin type.

Therefore, we are back again with yet another ingredient spotlight to help you decode your skin-care product labels better.

There was a time when propylene glycol was extensively used in every other skincare product despite the fact that it was named the Allergen of the year 2018 by the American Contact Dermatitis Society due to its bad reputation causing contact dermatitis.

Therefore, people with sensitive skin were in the hunt for an alternative ingredient that could be mild and safe for their irritation-prone skin. And it was when propanediol came into the picture that was similar to propylene glycol but much safer and gentler on the skin.

In this article, we would be talking about propanediol and its important role in skincare products. Keep scrolling down to know everything about this multi-tasking cosmetic ingredient. 

What is Propenediol?

Sounds like a chemical, right? Well, in technical terms, even water is a chemical!

And here’s the good thing!

Propanediol is derived from natural sources and it is safe for and provides astounding benefits for your skin.

Scientifically speaking, propanediol is a colorless, viscous, highly pure glycol liquid consisting of 3 carbon diols that can be naturally derived from a sustainable and renewable corn sugar fermentation process or manufactured synthetically.

Propanediol is the perfect glycol solution for formulations where non-petroleum based ingredients are desired.

It is a chemical compound similar to propylene glycol and is considered to be its natural and safer substitute that provides lesser irritation and is better tolerable to sensitive skin.

It is extensively used in almost every cosmetic and skincare products because of its ability to act as a multi-purpose ingredient which can function as a solvent, humectant, preservative, carrier for active cosmetic ingredients, penetration enhancer, and even an emollient.  

Benefits of Propanediol for skin 

Due to its versatility, propanediol can be spotted in the ingredients label present in most skincare products. It is the solvent of choice for most cosmetic manufacturers.

  • It acts as a good cover for the skin.
  • It provides adequate hydration, moisturization, deep cleansing, and minimal skin irritation or sensitization, making it a better alternative option for sensitive skin.  

Some of its primary benefits include:

1. Acts as a solvent:

Propanediol is a wonderful solvent for dissolving ingredients that are difficult to dissolve, such as salicylic acid, ferulic acid, allantoin and ascorbic acid.

It acts as an excellent carrier for almost every cosmetic ingredient and actives used in skincare. It is a beneficial ingredient for enhancing the clarity and composition of different product formulations.

It decreases viscosity in a variety of cosmetics, which helps the easy flow of the formula when used on skin and hair.  

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2. Improved humectancy:

It functions as an excellent humectant for the skin and thereby added in a lot of skincare products. It works as a moisture magnet by pulling water content from the surrounding atmosphere into your skin and locking it within the skin to prevent any water from escaping out.

This results in a healthy, baby-soft and dewy looking skin. This property makes it an ideal ingredient for people with dehydrated skin. 

3. Softens skin:

It exhibits emollient properties which soften your skin and prevents moisture loss from the skin. On topical application, it forms a protective shield or moisture barrier that prevents dryness and defends the skin against damage.

Its long term use helps in improving the natural moisture content within the skin. Skincare products such as creams, moisturizers, and lotions having propanediol as one of the key ingredients could be the best bet for people with dry skin. 

4. Anti-aging:

The humectant properties of propanediol can be beneficial for aging skin as our skin naturally loses hydration with age. As part of the normal aging process, there is a considerable reduction in the amount of Natural Moisturising Factor (NMF) present within the deeper layers of the skin.

The NMF of the skin consists of natural humectants, amino acids, PCA, sugars, lactates, salts, urea and peptides.

These ingredients comprising the NMF work together to bring hydration within the skin and maintain a healthy, plumped-up and younger-looking skin. A depletion in the amount of NMF results in dry and flaky skin that is prone to developing fine lines and wrinkles. This is why applying products that contain humectant ingredients such as propanediol can help diminish the signs of aging. 

5. Safe for acne-prone skin:  

Propanediol is extensively used in cleansers and face washes for enhancing the foaming action in the product. Foaming cleansers use lesser surfactants (chemicals that cleanses and washes off dirt & oil from your skin) and tend to be gentler on the skin.

It doesn’t strip away the natural oil content from the skin, making it an ideal ingredient for people prone to breakouts and acne. 

6. Enhances Absorption:

Propanediol works as an excellent penetration enhancer that allows other chemicals and active ingredients to sink deeper into the skin.

However, this is a controversial property as it can be helpful and a matter of concern when using products containing propanediol as the solvent.

It could effectively improve the penetration of beneficial ingredients that can promote the health of your skin and hair. It could also increase the absorption of not-so-healthy chemicals that can be harmful to your skin. 

7. Enhanced preservative efficacy:

It is also used as a preservative booster to improve the shelf life and retain the effectiveness of various skincare & cosmetic products for longer durations. And it also imparts a lightweight and non-sticky texture to the products, thus enabling their better absorption into the skin.

Propanediol Vs. Propylene glycol 

Propanediol Vs. Propylene glycol

People might often confuse 1,3-Propanediol (propanediol) and 1,2-Propanediol (propylene glycol) to be the same compounds due to their highly similar structures and the same chemical formula.

However, they function differently due to their different chemical structures and sources of origin. Propanediol is derived from corn, whereas propylene glycol is extracted from petrochemicals.

Although propylene glycol is considered safe in skincare and cosmetics, propanediol is generally used as a substitute for propylene glycol, especially for those who want their products to be free of petroleum-based glycols.

Several studies have concluded that propanediol is safer than propylene glycol as it is less sensitizing or irritating to the skin.

Side effects of Propanediol 

Propanediol is generally considered safe to be used in not only skincare products but also ingested food products with a few to no reported side effects.

A human skin patch test study conducted in 2010 on the side effects of propanediol observed that propanediol at concentrations as high as 75% did not produce any skin irritation or sensitization reactions.

It is approved as a safe ingredient for cosmetics and food products by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  

Minimalist’s Expert Advice:

Although propanediol is exclusively safe for topical use, it causes skin irritation in people who are allergic to the ingredient. Therefore, performing a patch test is a non-negotiable step before introducing a new ingredient to your skin for general use to avoid any irritation or adverse effects. 

The Takeaways 

According to the available research studies, propanediol can thereby be safe for use in cosmetic or personal care products. It is an all-purpose ingredient in skincare that provides multi-level benefits to the skin, including effective moisturization, hydration, and anti-aging effects; resulting in an overall healthy, smoother and glowing skin. It has a promising potential that can urge people to make the switch from propylene glycol to propanediol in skincare and cosmetics.