Propylene Glycol in Soap: Why Is It Used and What Is the Alternative?

Propylene Glycol in Soap

Chances are you may have noticed propylene glycol in a skincare product’s ingredient list. Propylene glycol is used in many personal care products as a humectant, a common ingredient in commercial soaps.

There’s some controversy around this chemical. Many argue that it’s toxic, and it’s even listed on the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). Still, companies that use propylene glycol in soap and beauty products claim that it’s safe.

What Is Propylene Glycol?

Propylene glycol is a colorless, nearly odorless, syrupy, water-soluble liquid. It’s a synthetic substance produced by adding water to propylene oxide, which in turn is derived from petroleum products. In its purest form, propylene glycol is used as an active agent in antifreeze and automatic brake fluid and as a solvent in the paint and plastics industries.

Propylene glycol absorbs water and has some hydrating properties, so it’s added to a wide range of cosmetics products to increase moisture retention in skin and hair. It’s a popular ingredient in many lotions, deodorants, shampoos, conditioners, shaving creams, and commercially produced “soaps,” which, in fact, are not true soaps but cosmetics.

According to an official definition of the FDA, soap is made using a saponification process from a mix of fatty acid and lye. To be regulated as soap, the final product must consist of alkali salts of fatty acids, and they must be the only ingredients that provide cleaning action.

Many commercial soap bars and liquid soaps are a mix of synthetic chemicals and are marketed as personal care products that moisturize the skin. But at Botanie Soap, we never include synthetic petroleum-derived ingredients like propylene glycol in soap recipes.

We make traditional cold-process soap from all-natural ingredients that are safe and gentle on sensitive skin. Check out our collection of bar soap that we offer for private label use and see for yourself that we use only certified organic base oils and scent our soap with essential oils or other plant extracts only.

Is It Safe to Use Propylene Glycol in Soap?

Propylene glycol is typically cheap to manufacture, so it’s commonly used in commercially available cosmetic and toiletry products, but the big question is: Is it safe to use propylene glycol in soap and other personal care products?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has classified propylene glycol as “generally recognized as safe.” It means that this chemical is acceptable for use in cosmetics, drugs, flavorings, and as a direct food additive. But on the other hand, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry includes propylene glycol in the Toxic Substances List and says that it can affect the respiratory system in your body (from nose to lungs).

At the same time, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) gives propylene glycol a “fair” rating and states that it poses a low risk of cancer or developmental and reproductive toxicity. But it acknowledges that the substance has been associated with irritant and allergic contact dermatitis as well as contact urticaria in humans—it’s a localized redness and swelling that occurs on the skin after direct contact with an offending substance. The EWG also admits that these effects can be manifested in concentrations as low as 2%.

The potential problem with propylene glycol is that it’s a penetration-enhancing humectant that absorbs moisture from anything around it. If your cosmetics or “soap” contain a penetration-enhancing humectant, then the molecules of harmful toxins such as pollutants or harsh chemical ingredients may be able to permeate the skin. They could harm the lipid barrier of the skin and cause irritation. It’s the main reason why propylene glycol has a negative reputation.

Short-term studies show that exposure to propylene glycol in extremely small doses for a short time doesn’t cause any severe reactions. But no research has been conducted to test the long-term side effects of the constant use of products that contain this substance. So no one can tell you whether these complex chemicals build up in our bodies and what happens after 15-20 years of continuous use.

At Botanie Soap, we are committed to offering safe and beneficial skin care products. That’s why we provide liquid and bar soap made from all-natural ingredients using a traditional, time-tested method in our soap making process. If you are looking for custom soap manufacturing, you can depend on us to get it right.

Propylene Glycol Alternative in Soap Making

You won’t find propylene glycol or nasty chemicals in the cold-process soap we make at Botanie Soap. The chemical reaction for making true soap is called saponification. Its final product is soap, but there’s also a byproduct—glycerin.

It’s a humectant with moisturizing properties and a natural propylene glycol alternative in soap making. Glycerin has been used as a soap ingredient for centuries. It can absorb moisture from the atmosphere and lock moisture on the skin. Glycerin also has some emollient properties that make it suitable for soothing dry skin.

Most commercial soap manufacturers remove the glycerin from their soaps and sell it to skin care manufacturers that use glycerin to create cosmetics, such as moisturizing creams and lotions. Then commercial soap manufacturers add synthetic humectants like propylene glycol in soap to improve its moisturizing properties.

At Botanie Soap, we always leave glycerin completely intact, so our soaps are actually glycerin soaps. And because they have a naturally high glycerin content, they are great for skin care and perfect for people with sensitive skin.


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