Unpacking Polyethylene Glycol (PEGs) and Its Effects on Skin Health

Buckle up, we’re acquainting ourselves with ta common ingredient we often miss out on beauty labels – polyethylene glycol (PEG).

Source: Allure
Source: Allure

Polyethylene Glycol (PEG) is a water-soluble polymer and polyether compound that’s used in many industries, from manufacturing to cosmetics and is usually found in your face moisturizers and body lotions. This ingredient has gone round the block, and it’s all thanks to its versatile nature and broad compatibility with various ingredients. Now, you might wonder – ”is it harmful or helpful for the skin?” Well, it’s mostly low hazard but with some complications. Confused? Let us explain.


Polyethylene Glycol (PEGs) in Action

Just grab any skincare product off the shelf and scan through its ingredient list – you’ll definitely find polyethylene glycol somewhere. It’s so popular for several reasons: it increases the viscosity of skincare formulations, which is basically the thickness and consistency of your creams so that it feels good and looks good; as an emulsifier to mix water-based and oil-based ingredients properly; as emollients to soften and moisturize the skin; and lastly, to maintain stability (so that your products have a longer shelf life), and as a vehicle to transport other ingredients deeper into the skin. 

Normally PEGs are listed with a numerical like PEG-6, PEG-8, PEG-100, and so on. Sometimes it can be phrased as ‘Ceteareth-20’ as well. The number indicates the molecular weight of the compound. Manufacturers typically go for lower molecular weights so that it’s easier for it to penetrate the skin.


Are there any side effects?

PEG is generally rated as a low hazard ingredient in skincare, though there have been some concerns regarding impurities found in the compound. Ethylene oxide (found in PEG-4, PEG-7, PEG4-dilaurate and PEG 100) is extremely toxic and studies have shown that exposure to ethylene glycol (a product derived from reacting water to ethylene oxide) increases chances of leukaemia and cancer. Other impurities include polycyclic aromatic compounds and metals like lead, iron, cobalt and nickel which are all linked to cancer.

Another frequently brought up compound is the 1,4 dioxane usually found in PEG-6, PEG-8, PEG-32, PEG-75, PEG-150, PEG-14M and PEG-20M that’s not only a carcinogen, but also an explosive peroxide (basically, they explode) so ehh, you don’t really want that to happen. However, safety checks are done to ensure the right amount of PEGs are included in any formulations. It’s the long term effects on skin health and microbiome imbalance that raise a cause for concern. 

Obviously, manufacturers try their best to strip polyethylene glycol of these impurities sometimes, but other times they just don’t care. There’s a lot of conflicting information regarding PEGs, so we’ve lined up a few tips for you in case you find polyethylene glycol in your product:

  • If you have a damaged or compromised skin barrier, it’s better to stay away from polyethylene glycol. Do scan through the ingredient list before making your purchase!
  • Make sure that you purchase from a trusted or respectable clean beauty brand*, since they are less likely to contain harmful chemicals or ingredients in their products;
  • Finally, opt for natural options instead! Some alternatives include natural humectants like lecithin, panthenol and glycerin; or natural emollients such as plant oils (jojoba, rosehip, etc), shea, cocoa and jojoba butters. You can easily find the latter in stores or online.

*The term ‘clean’ is unregulated and might be vague to some because the definitions vary by brand and company. Most often, clean beauty products do not contain ingredients that are linked to studies of cancer and endocrine disruption. It’s always good to go in with your research or consult someone who is well-versed in cosmetics ingredients. For the skincare ingredient newbies out there, you can utilize resources like cos DNA and EWG’s Skin Deep.


What about polyethylene glycol (PEG)-free products?

As the saying goes, prevention is better than cure. Here’s a list of polyethylene glycol-free skincare products you can check out but all our products are PEG free (except the ones we are phasing out)! Here’s our list:

1. Handmade Heroes’ Coconut Sorbet Luscious Lip Scrub

Handmade Heroes Cocolicious Luscious Natural Lip Scrub
Handmade Heroes Cocolicious Luscious Natural Lip Scrub

All hail the saviour of dry lips! This lip scrub is the holy grail for anyone who wants plump, sexy lips. You’d think that scrubs dry out the skin, but this doesn’t – in fact, it contains glycerin (which is derived from vegetable oils), a humectant that pulls moisture from deeper layers of your skin and the air to give it that pouty look. Pucker up ladies!


2. Oasis Skin Bakuchiol Skin Refining Serum

Oasis Bakuchiol Skin Refining Serum with Squalane and Tamanu
Oasis Bakuchiol Skin Refining Serum with Squalane and Tamanu

Struggling with dark spots? Then this product is just for you! Bakuchiol is derived from the seeds and leaves of Psoralea corylifolia plant known for treating diseases in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine. 

It’s also hailed as the vegan alternative to retinol and possesses anti-aging properties that are comparable to the latter. Studies have shown that bakuchiol is effective against hyperpigmentation, wrinkles and fine lines without the usual side effects that come with using retinol – dry, irritated or flaky skin. Though, as with every other ingredient, it’s always important to conduct patch tests to check for allergic reactions. If you’re new to bakuchiol, not to worry – a 10ml version of the product is available.


3. Blue Tansy Oil by Soul Good Project

Blue Tansy Oil with Rosehip Seed Oil by Soul Good Project
Blue Tansy Oil with Rosehip Seed Oil by Soul Good Project

If you’re looking for something moisturizing but don’t want to risk coming into contact with polyethylene glycol, then Soul Good Project’s Blue Tansy Oil is just the thing for you. It only contains three ingredients: rosehip seed oil, meadowfoam seed oil and blue tansy oil. Its star ingredient, blue tansy oil, derives from the blue tansy flower native to Morocco that contains anti-inflammatory and calming properties. So kick back, relax, and put on some blue tansy oil while you play your favorite music or Netflix show. 

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