Is Polyethylene Safe? We Take a Closer look at the The Plastic Ingredient
There are many things that’re in your makeup, but there are also many things that shouldn’t be in your makeup. Polyethylene is one of them. But what is Polythylene?
Is this plastic ingredient in your cosmetics safe? Find out more…
Polythylene glycols are better known with an acronym: PEG. It’s not actually a single ingredient, which is pretty misleading. Instead, PEG is a class of ethylene glycol polymers that act in other products to keep them stable, encourage moisturization, and help boost other ingredients (good or bad ones). These are petroleum based compounds.
Now, if you’re looking at an ingredient list on a product, PEGs are followed by a number that indicates how many units of ethylene glycol they’ve got in them. For example: PEG-10, or PEG-90. The lower the number, the easier it is for ingredients and compounds to be absorbed into your skin.
This video discusses why PEGs are one of the worst ingredients involved in skincare or makeup, according to a natural and organic beauty adviser.
What are the uses of Polyethylene?
This polymer, or plastic, is used in many different kinds of products. From skin care to beauty, PEGs are in eyeliners, mascara, eye shadows, eyebrow products, lipstick, blush, face powders, foundations, cleansers, and even moisturizers because of it’s very versatile properties. Polytheylene can be abrasive (think exfoliation), adhesive, bulking, emulsion stabilizer, film former, or even oral care agent.
One of the most popular uses of PEGs comes in the form of skin care products such as cleansers or exfoliating products. The small beads in exfoliators are made of Polyethylene, used for polishing and buffing your skin. PEGs are common in these formulas and makeup products because it also helps to bond other ingredients together. Compressed powders, foundation, and other products that use a lot of ingredients often contain PEGs.
Polyethylene can dilute solids, too. It can increase the thickness and volume of certain formulas. It can even help bind ingredients together, such as oil and water components of an emulsion. Film forming is another common use of PEGs, because it can dry to form a thin film coating skin, hair, or even your nails.
Another kind of Polyethylene used in cosmetics is Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) which is used in leave-on as well as rinse-out products. PET is considered safe by the FDA, surprisingly so; PET is considered safe for use within medical devices, but it’s also considered safe to use it and its byproducts in cosmetics. What’s more? There’s research and studies which show PET does not irritates eyes or skin.
PEGs in Plastic Surgery
Certain surgical procedures use artificial means and materials to reconstruct tissues. You’ve definitely heard of rhinoplasty, or facial reconstruction. In these surgical procedures, Polyethylene can be used as an implant, filler, or even as a graft. Medpor, a porous and highly dense polyethylene can be safe to use in these instances. But then again, high density polyethylene is also used in products like milk, juice, water bottles, shampoo, detergent, and motor oil.
Safety Concerns with PEGs
PEGs and polyethylene glycol can irritate your skin, but there are other reasons they’re labeled bad or unsafe. They work to “traffic funky chemicals across your epidermis, including a slug of impurities they’re often contaminated with,” according to the International Journal of Toxicology by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review. Pollutants found within PEG compounds have included ethylene oxide, polycyclic aromatic compounds, and even heavy metals like lead, iron, nickel, or arsenic. It’s likely that PEGs may be contaminated differently too, depending on the way they were manufactured.
PEGs can Cause Cancer
What’s evident, is that PEGs can be carcinogenic. According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, ethylene oxide (what’s in PEGs) is a human carcinogen. It can, potentially, also harm the nervous system. What’s more? The human body isn’t the only thing harmed by PEGs. The California Environmental Protection Agency classifies ethylene oxide as a developmental toxicant. In the environment, ethylene oxide can stunt human development.
1,4-dioxane is another bit in PEGs that is harmful. 1,4-dioxane is classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as a possible human carcinogen. Being a potential carcinogen isn’t 1,4-dioxane’s only issue; it’s also hard to break down. Which is to say, it remains in the environment even after it’s been rinsed out of your hair or washed off your skin. There’s a way to make sure it’s removed from cosemetics during the manufacturing process, but how is the buyer going to know that? It’s difficult to impossible for a consumer to know if a product contains PEGs that have gone through that process. In essence? You won’t know whether or not PEGs are still in your products.
PEG compounds function as “penetration enhancers”, meaning that they increase the permeability of the skin in order to allow products to be absorbed better, and more. This means harmful ingredients in products, when combined with PEGs, are more likely to be absorbed into your skin.
Should You Avoid Polyethylene?
It may be wise to consider avoiding Polyethylene, it’s derivatives, and PEGs overall. Why? The ingredient and its friends have been linked to cancer, organ toxicity, skin irritation, neurotoxicity, and cellular level changes. Doesn’t sound terribly safe, does it? PEGs interfere with your skin’s normal functions, and their effects can clog your pores, worsen acne or other skin conditions, and they can even be contaminated with carcinogens.
Here’s a sample list of products on the market that contain polyethylene.
- Almay Mascaras
- Peter Thomas Roth Acne Scrub
- Yardley Shower Scrub
- Avon Dual Desire Lip Gloss
- Neutrogena Nourishing Eye Liner
- Lab Series Skincare for Men Clean
- Revlon Age-Defying Translucent Finishing Powder
- Almay Time-Off Age Smoothing Pressed Powder
Polyethylene and PEGs aren’t the only ingredients to look for in your skin care or cosmetic products. Be sure to look at the ingredients of your makeup, hair products, and skin care products for some of these bad boys:
- Coal Tar
- DEA/TEA/MEA: Ethoxylated surfactants and 1,4-dioxane
- Mineral oil
- Paraphenylenediamine (PPD)
- Placental extract
- Silicone-derived emollients
- Sodium lauryl (ether) sulfate (SLS, SLES)
It’s important to know what you’re putting on your skin to protect your body. What are your must-avoid ingredients?