PEGs are seemingly in every personal care product out there, but are they really that bad for you? Today we’ll talk about why PEGs are bad, why you should avoid them, and give some safer alternatives to the common products they’re found in.
We’ll go ahead and start with the question I know everyone is wondering right now: what the heck IS a PEG? PEG is short for polyethylene glycol, and rather than being one ingredient it’s actually an entire class of compounds commonly used as surfactants, emulsifiers, cleansing agents, humectants, and skin conditioners in personal care products (think creams, suncreens, and shampoo). They may be contaminated with measurable amounts of ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane, which are both carcinogens (have been shown to cause cancer).
PEGs are used for a variety of purposes, as mentioned above, but one purpose in particular is that they are used as penetration enhancers. This means PEGs help products to penetrate through your skin more effectively, which means that all of the ingredients in a product are getting into your skin, and subsequently your bloodstream, more efficiently. This is scary because many of those other ingredients (especially if a product has undisclosed fragrance) could be a cocktail of toxins your body just doesn’t need.
They can also cause skin irritation, can cause problems when used on broken skin, and can also be contaminated with impurities. These impurities can include ethylene oxide (highly toxic and used in WWI nerve gas), 1,4-dioxane (a known carcinogen and also has the ability to form explosive peroxides), polycyclic aromatic compounds, and heavy metals (lead, iron, cobalt, nickel, cadmium and arsenic), most of which are linked to cancer and/or other health issues. Certainly not something you want to willingly rub all over your skin!
When you look at a list of ingredients that contain PEGs, you’ll see that there is often a number associated with it (i.e. PEG 100). This number represents the approximate molecular weight of that particular PEG compound. The lower the number, the easier it is for the PEG to penetrate your skin. For the most part PEGs used in cosmetics tend to have lower numbers, which means they are not only penetrating the skin, but allowing other ingredients to do that as well.
While I usually like to give multiple alternatives to a product (i.e. options from different companies for a red lipstick), since PEGs aren’t found in one single product I’ve just listed out Beautycounter’s answer to some very popular products. The fact that we can formulate highly effective products without over 1500 harmful or questionable ingredients shows that it can be done. When you vote with your dollars companies pay attention! Here are a few examples of products that you can purchase from Beautycounter instead of other popular brands who are utilizing PEGs in their formulation:
- Buy this: Beautycounter’s Countercontrol Matte Effect Gel Cream, not that: Proactiv Clarifying Night Cream (containing PEG 100)
- Buy this: Beautycounter’s Volume & Shape Shampoo, not that: L’Oreal Paris Hair Expertise EverPure Volume Shampoo (contains both PEG 55 propylene glycol oleate and propylene glycol)
- Buy this: Beautycounter’s Countersun Mineral Sunscreen, not that: Rodan + Fields Essentials Body Sunscreen Broad Spectrum 30 (contains PEG-10 Dimethicone and PEG-100 Stearate)
- Buy this: No.3 Balancing Facial Mask, not that: Nature Republic Bamboo Charcoal Black Mask Sheet (contains PEG and PEG 75, and PEG 60 hydrogenated castor oil)