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Polyethylene glycol (PEG) and polypropylene glycol (PPG) are chemical compounds widely used in many cosmetic formulas. Originating from the petrochemical industry, they no longer meet the expectations of consumers looking for healthier and more environmentally friendly products. As a manufacturer of 100% PEG-free cosmetic ingredients, Sophim outlines the issues and questions associated with polyethylene glycol and invites you to discover some of the more beneficial alternatives to these polymers.

What are the uses of polyethylene glycol?

Based on production processes implemented by the petrochemical industry, which can offer these chemicals at affordable prices, PEGs and PEG derivatives are used in many cosmetic formulas. Among other products, they are found in moisturisers, liquid soaps, and shampoos.
Polyethylene glycol is also used as a food additive. In particular, you’ll find it in sweets and confectionery as a coating agent.
The uses of PEG are also recognised by the pharmaceutical and personal care industries. Its laxative properties and its ability to prevent colorectal cancer are particularly appreciated by certain pharmaceutical companies. Certain personal care products, such as hydroalcoholic gels or food supplements, also contain this polymer.
Other uses are also found in various sectors: for example, PEG is used in the composition of certain inks for printers, paintball balls, or even some resins.

What are the cosmetic properties of PEGs?

We have identified several dozen PEG polymers used in cosmetics. Depending on their molecular weights, they have varied properties that are very popular with professionals and, in particular, are used as:

  • Emulsifying agents: these play a determining role in various emulsions, allowing immiscible liquids to present a homogeneous and stable appearance over time.
  • Antistatic agents: these reduce the production of static electricity, and are particularly useful in certain hair care products.
  • Emollient agents: these offer softening, smoothing and softening effects for the skin.
  • Surfactants: by modifying the surface tension between two surfaces, PEGs offer emulsifying or foaming properties.
  • Humectants: these participate, most notably, in the skin’s hydration, by penetrating the superficial cells of the epidermis.
  • Viscosity-control agents: these make it possible to increase or decrease the viscosity of creams and cosmetic products.
  • Solvents: these promote the dissolution or dilution of certain poorly soluble substances to create more homogeneous formulas.

Polyethylene glycol is often referred to in lists of cosmetic ingredients by the letters PEG, followed by a number according to the molecule used.

What are the issues surrounding PEGs?

Although these substances are very widespread today, they often give rise to debates and questions from both manufacturers and consumers.

Health risks

Polyethylene glycol is regularly the subject of debate regarding its possible danger to health. However, to date, no scientific study has highlighted any proven health risk. Despite this, doubts remain with regard to the long-term effects of these substances, with their possible reprotoxic effects at high doses at times being called into question. They can also cause allergies and dermatitis to some people.
When undiluted or only slightly diluted, PEGs are irritating to mucous membranes and the skin, and could have reprotoxic effects. However, their use in cosmetic formulas have not yet presented any proven and certain risk for authorities.

Environmental impacts

The PEG manufacturing process, based on the principle of ethoxylation, is complex and potentially damaging to the environment. One of the raw materials used is ethylene oxide: this substance is classified as flammable, toxic, sensitising, mutagenic, carcinogenic and reprotoxic. Although this is not normally found in the final product, polyethylene glycol, some believe a risk of contamination may arise from the presence of residues.
The low biodegradability of PEGs is also an issue. Cosmetics that contain it often make their way into the wastewater system, when consumers rinse their face or take a shower or bath. However, PEGs are not treated by wastewater treatment plants, and so these can end up in rivers, streams and oceans.

Organic cosmetics

PEGs cannot be used for the formulation of organic cosmetic products. They are therefore dismissed by all manufacturers who position themselves within this market.

Consumer expectations

Consumers are demanding more natural cosmetic products, considered healthier and less allergenic. Organic cosmetic products are therefore popular, along with formulas considered to be better for our health. Mobile apps which help shoppers immediately identify ingredients considered to be problematic (whether rightly or wrongly) are being increasingly downloaded and relied on. However, the overwhelming majority of PEGs, for example, are classified as “Not terrible” by Incy Beauty. PEG-free products are likely to score higher, provided that they do not contain other problematic substances.
Consumers growing environmental awareness can also be seen as a sales argument in favour of PEG-free products. A squalane of natural origin, obtained from olives grown via sustainable or organic farming methods, has a much lower environmental impact than a polymer from the petrochemical industry.
The criticisms surrounding the production process are also a source of concern. PEGs have very different properties from ethylene oxide and obviously do not share these harmful effects. But what will a consumer think about polyethylene glycol, when they read on a website that it is obtained from a toxic substance, also used to make mustard gas during World War I?

What are the alternatives to PEGs?

Solvents and emulsifying, antistatic, emollient, surfactant, and viscosity-control agents of natural origin can offer a host of alternatives to the use of PEGs. As a manufacturer of cosmetic ingredients, Sophim guarantees you a 100% PEG-free catalogue.

Emollient agents

PHYTOSQUALAN, for example, is an emollient agent obtained from raw vegetable materials (olive, soybean, and sunflower). BIOPHYTOSEBUM stands out as a particularly attractive natural alternative to silicones: it is recommended for face and hair care.

Texture agents

The PHYTOWAX range of natural waxes offers a multitude of cosmetic applications: sunscreens, facials, hair care, make-up, baby care, and more. VEGELINE 65 and VEGELINE 70 are two 100% natural alternatives to petroleum jelly, petrolatum and paraffins. Vegetable butters and vegetable oils are also used in the composition of many formulas. Each plant has its own properties: peach butter, for example, is renowned for its high vitamin content, and for its softening, nourishing, firming and emollient properties.
Many natural texturing agents are also available in an organic version.ù

Switch to PEG-free cosmetics!

Are you a professional in the cosmetics industry looking for new ingredients for healthier and more environmentally friendly cosmetic formulas? With production sites based in France and Spain, as close as possible to the raw materials, Sophim guarantees you the highest standards of quality.
Dedicated to providing sustainable natural ingredients, since 1988, we have been applying the principles of the circular economy to our production: the olive, our main resource, is natural, sustainable and ethical. Our production sites are strategically placed as close as possible to the olive groves to reduce the carbon footprint of our ingredients, and to guarantee you European, local sourcing. Our raw materials come from the reuse of food industry co-products, and we take care to also reuse our own co-products throughout the production process, with a commitment to limiting our environmental impact.
Sustainable development has been a concern of Sophim since its creation. We offer COSMOS certified and approved ingredients, natural alternatives to the use of ingredients from the petrochemical industry such as PEGs, which guarantee natural cosmetic formulas.

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