Answers About Propylene Glycol

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Dear Sex Counselor,

I see that some of your lubricants contain propylene glycol. Isn't that what antifreeze is made of?! Is it safe to use?


A Woman's Touch is dedicated to the sexual health and pleasure of our customers.  Because we promote knowledge of sexual health we are frequently asked about the ingredients used in the products we carry, or why we do not carry certain products.

We research those issues very carefully, in order to address the varied needs of our customers, many of whom are referred to us by medical providers because of chemical sensitivities, allergic reactions, autoimmune disorders, hormonal issues and/or cancer treatment. We are confident that the products we carry are safe and effective for their intended purpose, though not every product we carry is suitable for every customer.

One of the ingredients that we receive frequent questions about is Propylene Glycol.  There is much misinformation and misunderstanding available on the internet, often based on claims that "it is used in antifreeze" and backed up by scary-sounding warnings from medical studies, government websites, and Material Safety Data Sheets.

What is Propylene Glycol?

Propylene glycol is a "humectant," or water-absorbing substance that is used in a wide variety of cosmetics, ointments, medications and foods to keep them moist, and to deliver active ingredients into the skin.  Because it is both effective and safe, it is commonly used in personal lubricants, including several that we carry and recommend at A Woman's Touch. 

Propylene glycol has been in use in food products, medications, and cosmetics for decades, and is categorized by the U.S. Food & Drug Adminstration as "generally recognized as safe" for use in food products. Multiple complex, peer-reviewed, published studies by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (a division of the US Center for Disease Control), the International Programme on Chemical Safety (which includes the World Health Organization), as well as the manufacturer-produced Material Safety Data Sheets all indicate that the only known side-effects of exposure to propylene glycol in any amount reasonably accessible to a consumer are that extended exposure of 100% concentrations (not found in any consumer application) may irritate the eyes or skin; that individuals who are allergic may develop a rash (true of most substances); and that consumption of more than 100mL (3.4 ounces) is likely to cause an upset stomach.

Propylene Glycol in Antifreeze?

In fact, propylene glycol is used in antifreeze (as is water).  Because of its very low freezing point and its safety, it has become an environment- and animal-friendly alternative to the toxic ethylene glycol-based antifreezes of old, which were notorious for poisoning animals and children.

As a result of our research, and our experience with thousands of customers over the years, we have determined that propylene glycol is an ingredient that we can comfortably recommend as both safe and effective as used in the personal lubricants we carry, for anyone who is not known to be allergic to it.  It is safe to put on your skin, and edible in the quantities used in normal applications.

However, we do understand that some customers have concerns, and we want our customers to feel confident in the products they purchase.  If you decide you still prefer a lubricant that does not contain propylene glycol, our Pleasure Specialists can assist you in identifying which of our lubricants do not contain it.

Resources: 
http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/csem/egpg/propylene_glycol.html: A good summary of the medical uses and effects of propylene glycol, meant for medical professionals (but simply written and readable) from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

Other materials available from the ATSDR include the Public Health Statement (meant to be readable by the public) at http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/phs189.html and the more comprehensive Toxicological Profile at http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/tp189.html.

http://www.melaleuca.com/wc/pdf/Ingredient_Myths.pdf: An excellent article describing ways legitimate medical and scientific studies are twisted to mislead and frighten people for commercial gain.  Specifically discusses several commonly vilified ingredients, including propylene glycol. 

http://www.inchem.org   The International Programme on Chemical Safety (IPCS) and the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) consolidate current, internationally peer-reviewed chemical safety-related publications and database records from international bodies, for public access.

http://www.tomsofmaine.com/products/ingredient-detail.aspx?id=17&name=Propylene%20glycol  An excellent summary on propylene glycol by a reputable natural products manufacturer.