Propylene Glycol Allergy

PropyleneGlycol-stickAndBallIf you’re not used to reading ingredient labels, a positive patch test to propylene glycol might not mean much to you. If you do read labels, finding our you’re allergic to propylene glycol could send you into a bit of a tailspin. Propylene glycol is everywhere! It’s even in hydrocortisone cream, a common topical steroid used to treat allergic skin reactions.

First things first. What is propylene glycol?

Propylene glycol is an alcohol used as a softening agent, preservative, humectant (draws water molecules to it), and solvent. It is often used in products containing both oils and water.

Where can I find it?

Propylene glycol is used throughout the auto, pharmaceutical, medical, food, cosmetic, and chemical industries. It can be found in:

  • Antiperspirants and deodorants
  • Cosmetics like eye shadow, liquid makeup, concealer, lip gloss, lipstick, mascara, and anti-aging treatments
  • Body creams and lotions
  • Hair products like conditioner, hairspray, shampoo, gel, and mousse
  • Oral care products like toothpaste, breath strips, and mouthwash
  • Shaving creams and gels
  • Soaps and cleansers
  • Wet wipes and moist toilet wipes
  • Topical medications such as hydrocortisone cream, acne treatment, gels and sprays for athlete’s foot, and hemorrhoid cream
  • Internal medications like liquid gel capsules and lozenges
  • Foods like guacamole, donuts, marinating sauces, tartar sauce, brownies, jalapeño sauce, and salad dressings
  • PG may be found in anti-ripening coatings used on fruits such as avocados. These coatings sit on the skin of the fruit to reduce respiration and thus ethylene production. They may or may not penetrate into the fruit’s flesh.
  • Pet shampoo and conditioner
  • Household cleaners and detergents
  • Paints, stains, enamels, and sealers
  • Auto care products including de-icer, air sanitizer, leather care, tire foam, tire sealant and flat preventative, vinyl/rubber cleaner and conditioner, and cooling systems
  • Yard care products like fungicide
  • Industrial chemicals like solvents, thinners, antifreeze, desiccants, brake fluids, and polyester resins

What is a typical reaction to propylene glycol?

Propylene glycol often causes redness, swelling, itching, and fluid-filled blisters. Ouch! These symptoms can appear up to seven days after exposure.

Layers_of_glycerine,_propylene_glycol,_ethylene_glycol_and_waterWhat are some other chemical names to watch out for?

  • 1,2-Propanediol
  • 1,2-Dihydroxypropane
  • 2-Hydroxypropanol
  • EPA Pesticide Chemical Code 068603
  • EINECS 200-338-0
  • Isopropylene glycol
  • Methylethyl glycol

If you’re diagnosed with an allergy to propylene glycol, the first thing to do is check the ingredients in your topical medication to ensure propylene glycol isn’t there. If it is, speak with your doctor or a pharmacist about alternatives. Next, check any products you use on the area(s) of your body that is/are reacting or that you are constantly exposed to in your place of work. Then check any products that you use on your face, including makeup, lotions, and oral care products. The skin on your face is very sensitive, and if you are going to experience a reaction, that may be one of the first places it shows. Once you’ve covered the basics, you can then spread to the other common sources of exposure to eliminate any other necessary products from your life.

Unless you know you have a food allergy, it’s possible the food items containing propylene glycol might not be affecting you, but you can check by avoiding them for a month and then reintroducing them one every 4-5 days and checking for resurgence of symptoms.

It is possible to avoid many sources of propylene glycol exposure, but it takes diligence. What other types of products have you found that contain propylene glycol? Comment below.


18 Responses to “Propylene Glycol Allergy”

  1. Kerry Kuzak

    I have researched PG and, besides what you have listed above, it is also in the following things:
    adhesives (glue/stickers/tape/bandaids); airplane de-icers; almonds (sterilized with PPO); artificial sweeteners; baby lotions/creams/wipes/diapers (polyethylene lining); beer; bake at home biscuits in a can; cake/muffin/cornbread mixes; candy/gum; flavored coffee; disposable cleaning cloths; dried fruit (sulfite kind); dry cleaning solutions; e-cigarettes; extracts; fast food (low grade beef, sauces, syrups, mayonnaise); food colors and food preservatives; “natural” and “artificial” flavorings; fragrances; frosting in a can; hair dyes; inks; margarine; massage oils; medical gels/supplies; modified food/corn starch; molasses (as a by-product of sugar beet processing); nut pieces may be sprayed with PG to remove debris); orange juice (flavor packets); personal lubricants; MANY pharmaceuticals; polyester resin; PG is sprayed on many fruits and vegetables to make them shiny and prevent fungus; room deodorizers; sanitary pads/tampons; skin moisturizers; snack food; sour cream; stage “fog”; store bought baked goods; tattoos; recycled toilet paper (from ink on used paper); vaporizers; whipped toppings; wood/lumber. I’m most concerned with the “hidden sources”: cleaning products which are not required to have ingredients labelled; ice cream where PG is used as an emulsifier, but does not have to be labelled because of an industry standard; spices can be sterilized with ethylene oxide; PEG is used in the processing of sugar beets; and soft drinks where PG is used to inhibit bacterial growth and evenly distributes fatty acids for flavor consistency.

  2. Kerry Kuzak

    I like your blog very much–interesting and informative! I’m sorry if I misled you with my listing that spices can be sprayed with ethylene oxide. I am allergic to both propylene glycol and polyethylene glycol and avoid ALL the glycols, which probably seems extreme to most people. I know nothing about chemistry except what I look up on sites like the Household Products data base. I avoid nonorganic spices because I know ethylene oxide is also used in the processing of PEG. Even though I know the glycols have physiological differences, I don’t know what my body is reacting to, so I generalize my avoidance to similar chemicals/compounds.

    PG, as you mentioned, is definitely used in HVAC systems which are supposed to be contained. It would be very scary to have it used in air exchange systems. I know several people with a PG allergy who become anaphylactic with exposure. One of them was severely poisoned with a leak in her parents’ geothermal heating/cooling system when a leak went undetected.

  3. Debby Davies


    I read your post on Life without polyethylene glycol and its friends, I’m allergic to ethylene glycol,PEG and PG and recently have started getting a tingly sore mouth with a rash with some fruits like nectarines, grapes and apples but am fine with home grown or organic. the allergist I see doesn’t think its due to those allergies but possibly an intolerance to suites!!! However I see from the Life with out PEG and its Friends that there are others who have the same problem so I’m not convinced he’s right. I’m aware that fruit is sprayed with some sort of ethylene to make it ripen. Do you have any experience of this. Thanks

    • Doctors, while having a great deal of medical knoweldge, can’t possibly learn everything about every drug, or about the use of every chemical in our environment.

      If you have a confirmed glycol allergy and are reacting to only non-organic fruits, then it is possible you are having an allergic reaction. With regards to the ethylene oxide you mention, it is a gas, and not in any way cross-reactive with glycols, nor is it in any way contaminated with glycols. That is a rumour started by people who are looking at things backwards. Ethylene oxide is used to make glycols, not the reverse. If chemical A and chemical B are used to form chemical C, chemical C will contain small amounts of both chemicals A and B. Before mixing these two chemicals together to create chemical C, chemical A is not in any way contaminated with chemicals B or C. Chemical A is ethylene oxide. Chemical C is propylene glycol and a number of other glycols. Ethylene oxide, when used as ethylene oxide, will not cause an allergic reaction in someone simply because they have a glycol allergy. It is a toxic gas, but it does not remain behind on food any more than carbon dioxide would if you blew on your apple before putting it in your grocery bag.

      There is, however, a reasonable potential source of PG in fruits and vegetables that would not appear in organic produce. PG is considered “generally recognized as safe” for food uses, as well as being an effective stabilizer and carrier. As such, it is used in a number of pesticides and herbicides (as well as being an actual ingredient in a number of prepared and processed foods). These pesticides and herbicides are applied not just to the fruit or vegetable but to the entire plant and soil, being taken in by the root system and spread throughout the plant. This is a much more likely source of chemical contamination for fruits and vegetables (as well as grains and legumes).

      • Debby Davies

        Thanks for replying so quickly. I have a confirmed PEG allergy but recently reacted to a supplement with PG in it not PEG so I’m certain I’m allergic to both. Scary that the PG is applied to the whole plant and soil and taken in by the roots! Thanks for the info about PG use! I will stick to organic as much as possible and avoid processed foods. I will follow up with my supermarket about where they source their non organic fruit and what is put on it but I suspect I may not get far with that.
        I appreciate your help!!

      • Debby Davies

        Hi again, I had a nasty reaction after eating some cashew nuts at a friends 50th party on sat night, I became hot and dizzy and nearly passed out, I had some throat tightening and tongue swelling and ended up using my daughters epipen, and then spending a few hours in the ED being observed. whilst I’m not going to eat any cashews now, I’m convinced it wasn’t the nuts I reacted to but probably propylene glycol or PEG on them. There were cashes from 2 different packets one listed cotton seed oil and salt, the other sunflower oil and salt. I understand cotton seed is often heavily spread, do you know if this is correct?Thanks

        • Many varieties of nuts are heavily sprayed with various fungicides and pesticides. I know at least one vegan dairy producer who clearly stated that they decided not to used organic almonds in their products because the supply chain in California (a major nut-producing region) is not consistent or broad enough. Cotton is another plant that is heavily chemically treated. Chemicals are even used to help open the cotton pods for easier harvest, even though the organic method, allowing the plants to experience a frost before harvest, is equally effective at opening the pods.

          An allergist should be able to test for cashew allergy and confirm or deny a reaction to the protein, but I am not sure of their protein source. I definitely wouldn’t suggest trying a food to which anyone had a previous true anaphylactic reaction without doctor supervision, but if you ever feel comfortable enough to try a test, you may well have a different experience with organic. I have a blog post coming up this Monday related to that kind of at-home testing, which I’ve recently worked up the courage to try with what I believed was a long-term food intolerance.

          • Debby Davies

            Thanks again for that info. I also discovered that the hand sanitiser we use multiple times a shift at the hospital I work in is 70% isopropyl alcohol, which I think is 2-propanol and that is a polypropylene glycol. please correct me if I’m wrong! So I’ve been exposing myself to it for years. I now have to find an alternative but am a bit nervous in general about all the chemicals in a hospital.

          • Not quite. Isopropyl alcohol is indeed 2-propanol, but propylene glycol is 1,2-propanediol. The difference is that the glycol has an additional -OH group on one of its ends, which is characteristic of other glycols (having two -OH/hydroxyl groups “hanging off” of them). This places it into having a slightly but notably different chemical structure from glycols.

            If you are reacting to isopropyl alcohol, then it is likely that you would react to other basic molecules with a single hydroxyl group, such as alcohol that you drink (some of those can also contain PG – more in an upcoming post). I suspect that it is more likely that there is a chemical in gloves that you use, or the laundry detergents, lotions, or soaps. Even though rashes and reactions can appear anywhere on the skin due to exposure, it is often likely that if you are getting a strong hand reaction that it is related to something you are contacting with your hands, as you suspect.

          • Debby Davies

            Thanks again for all the info.You have way more knowledge than me. I typed isopropyl alcohol into 2 different websites both came up with 2 propanol as a synonym, I then went to the list of Life without polyethylene glycol and under polypropylene glycol synonyms there’s 2 (2-Hydroxypropoxy)propanol,I wasn’t sure what the stuff in the brackets meant. The thing most used on my hands would be the isopropyl alcohol but I will check out the gloves, creams etc.I don’t have any rashes on my hands, I sometimes get mild eczema on my face. Whilst I don’t have an allergic reaction to alcohol I drink, I’m finding more and more it gives me heartburn or upsets my stomach but then I’ve had some trouble in the last few months with reflux/ oeosophagitis which started with an exposure to PEG in a supplement. I think I would rather avoid the isopropyl hand gel anyway.

          • Another possibility to consider is any other ingredients in the hand gel, like preservatives or fragrances. If you’re not having a reaction on your hands, it could be anything you contact in the course of a day, including by airborne means.

            An alternative to hand sanitizers is to carry a small spray bottle of high-proof vodka (70% or higher is ideal), but if you want to avoid alcohols and glycols both then I guess washing your hands with a plain soap could be best. I carry a small tin of olive oil soap pieces in my purse, but sometimes use my vodka spray bottle as a touch-up deodorant. I keep far more vodka outside the liquor cabinet than in it, since I also occasionally use it to sanitize. This makes my father-in-law sad, but then so does my rum-based hair cleaning. 😉

          • Debby Davies

            You’re right again, the hand sanitiser is 70% isopropyl with emollients not listed on the label, PEG 400 is one of the ingredients. They have come up with a couple of ethanol based alternatives but the safety data sheets list other ingredients generally regarded as safe and I know PEG can be one of them so am waiting to hear exactly whats in them. Thanks for the tips on deoderant!

  4. Debby Davies

    Sorry to bother you again, I wasn’t allowed to work because there was no safe option found before the weekend. They have come up with an option which contains glycerine, polyacrylic acid,and triethanolamine. What are your thoughts on glycerine? The soap thats used at work also contains glycerine and something called glycol stearate?

    I did type message to you about your road trip to see your Granpa but it seems it didn’t go through. I hope you’ve come up with a way to get to see him, I am beginning to understand some of the issues with this allergy. Thanks again

    • Hi Debby,

      Glycerin, otherwise known as glycerol, is a sugar alcohol with a very similar molecular shape to glycols. It is not guaranteed to be an issue for someone with a glycol allergy, and most people who don’t have issues with it recommend sticking with the vegetable-sourced version, but it *can* cross-react for some people. I’m still trying to decide whether I react to it or not.

      Polyacrylic acid is not in any way related to glycols, either in production or molecular shape. There shouldn’t be any chance of cross-contamination or cross-reaction with glycol (though some people can probably be separately allergic to it, unrelated to glycol allergies). Polyacrylic acid is not thoroughly investigated from a toxicology perspective, but one website that lists chemical safety sheets had this to say:
      “Products containing polyacrylic acid warn of a mild irritation if eye or skin exposure occurs. Not meant for skin contact.”
      I don’t know how this product was meant to be used. If you aren’t around when it’s used and don’t have direct contact with the surfaces it’s used on, it may be fine.

      Triethanolamine is not directly related to glycols, but it is an alcohol. It is less likely than glycerin that it will cross-react with a glycol allergy, but there is a small possibility due to the reactive ends. Based on its production method, it should not be contaminated with glycols. It is a contact allergen for some people.

      Glycol stearate is not likely to cross-react with glycol allergies, but it is made using ethylene glycol. Since no reaction or separation is 100% it is possible that it could be contaminated with a glycol. You’d probably be best giving yourself a test patch before using it all over your skin.

      Sorry I didn’t see a message about the trip to see my grandfather. Thank you for your good wishes. We did make it, and back, with some crazy incidents along the way. I’ll be posting about that in the next couple of weeks.

      • Debby davies

        Thanks for all that info, I’m having to use a hand sanitiser with glycerine in as the alternative one to that had macadamia oil in it which I can’t use as I work with children in a “nut free” environment. So far it has been alright but I hope I’m not absorbing any of it through my skin.

        I’m glad you got to see your grandfather, I understand some of the difficulty being away from home with these allergies.Thanks again for your help.

  5. Rebecca

    My son is very sensitive to propylene glycol. His face gets horribly red, blotchy, and dry like sandpaper. Almost like he’s been burned. No amount of lotion will moisturize the skin. I have figured out how to avoid it in foods and other obvious places, although I still have much to learn.

    He started taking an anti-depressent and I noticed his face getting worse and worse. I kept asking the pharmacist if it had PG in it and was told no. When I finally looked up the inactive ingredients myself, I discovered it has Polyethylene Glycol and thanks to blogs and websites like this I’ve learned that they are very similar, so no wonder he was having a reaction. Apparently these two chemicals are found in almost all extended release tablets and capsules. We tried switching to a different antidepressant and it simply is not working. After much research I have found ONE manufacturer that makes the medicine he needs with no PG. BUT, it has many ingredients I’m not familiar with and don’t know if they will cause similar reactions. Could someone PLEASE tell me if any of these could cause reactions similar to PG? These are the inactive ingredients (in order): HYPROMELLOSE, MICROCRYSTALLINE CELLULOSE, TALC, MAGNESIUM STEARATE, AMMONIUM LAURETH-5 SULFATE, TITANIUM DIOXIDE, FERRIC OXIDE RED, POLYVINYL ALCOHOL, UNSPECIFIED, FERRIC OXIDE YELLOW.

    Desperately hoping that he might be able to tolerate this formulation. Thank you!!

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