Elegantly Eco

Eco-Friendly Beauty, Fashion, Reviews, and Info

What is polyethylene glycol (PEG) and why you should avoid it


Examples of products that contain polyethylene glycol. Image 1: Source, Image 2: Source, Image 3: Source
Note: Everyman Jack is actually labelled as a “natural” product on this website, but if you look at the ingredients list it’s got some pretty bad ingredients in there mixed in with some good ones. That’s why it’s a good idea to read the ingredients list of the products you use.

What it is:

Polyethylene glycol (PEG) is a petroleum based compound widely used in cosmetics as a thickener, moisturizer, and base. It is also used in pharmaceutical applications as a laxative. You’ll often find PEG’s in skin creams, laxatives, personal lubricants, toothpaste, printer ink, paintball fills and as an anti-foaming agent in foods.

Why you should avoid it:

Some people will say that articles like these promote “scare mongering”. But I would rather know what is in the products I use and if they have negative side effects. As I’ve written in previous instances of this series, if your family medical history includes a risk of cancer (for example) then you may want to avoid all products that contain possible carcinogens. That way you reduce the amount of chemicals your body has to detoxify itself from. That sounds like common sense to me!

Further reading:

PEG Compounds and their Contaminants – David Suzuki Foundation

Beyond Parabens: 7 Common Cosmetics Ingredients You Need to Avoid – Treehugger.com

What is it – PEGs – Truth in Aging

Dangers of PEG Compounds in Cosmetics – Women at Increased Breast Cancer Risk? – Phend Pharmaceuticals


Author: Hazel

Unrepentant blogger of eco beauty, fashion and info living in Toronto, Canada. Blogging and reviews about eco-friendly organic brands, beauty, fashion, cosmetics, skincare, haircare, body care, DIY recipes, home, wellness, and lifestyle products that are available in Canada.

2 thoughts on “What is polyethylene glycol (PEG) and why you should avoid it

  1. So glad you’re highlighting this ingredient. In relation to your article, I’ve noticed recently that a few indie organic brands are including polysorbate-20 in their ingredient decks. It’s most likely used as an emulsifier (depends on formulation) and claims are made of its natural origin. However, its other name is PEG(20)sorbitan monolaurate, a PEG derivative. It starts out as a sorbitol (sugar alcohol) that is treated with ethylene oxide which can be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane.

    My detectors went off when I first saw this ingredient because it’s not allowed in the Natural Perfumery Guild as an emulsifier for dispersing essential oils into water (linen sprays or water based fragrances, for example). Organic certification allows up to 5% of ingredients to come from non-organic and synthetic sources. This provides for the use preservatives and other essential ingredients. A preservative in an emulsion is a requirement for product safety, but I have to wonder about companies that are ok with using a non-essential ingredient such as polysorbate-20 when there are better alternatives.

    • This is good information to know Maggie. Thanks so much for replying. I’m not a professional chemist or anything but so far I seem to have good instincts on what ingredients to avoid.

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