allergy to polyethylene glycol, propylene glycol, ethylene & butylene glycols

How to Find Glycol-Free Alternatives

Tips for Surviving a Glycol Allergy

When you first discover you have an allergy to something that is an “invisible” ingredient in so many things, the first reaction is to look for a list of “safe” products you can use. There are plenty of blogs and sites that will give lists of products they think are free of glycols, and there are many doctors and practitioners who may also give you lists of “safe” products.

What happens when you use those “safe” products and end up with dermatitis, hives, or worse? Most people assume they’re allergic to something else in the product, but it could easily be the same old allergy due to hidden glycols with a different name, or a simple change in formulation. Because glycols are considered inactive ingredients in most products and are in the classification “GRAS” (or Generally Recognized as Safe), manufacturers can change the ingredients in any product at any time. That list you have just became out of date and no one’s going to tell you because glycols are not considered an allergen. For prescription medications this is particularly difficult because you don’t get the ingredients on the bottle.

5 Ways to Find Glycol-Free Products


Here’s how to find products that won’t leave you itching, wheezing, or worse:

1. Get to know your ingredients. Keep a list with you at all times. Check for new names for the ingredients you react to, and ones you now are OK for you. I found a blog for people who make body care products and discovered brand names for glycols that I had never seen before, then added them to my list.

2. Look for companies more than products. I have had more success with safe ingredients by finding companies that have a commitment to use safe ingredients that come from plants and animals rather than from petrochemical labs. Proctor and Gamble, for example, has a commitment to a mass-market consumer, and that consumer doesn’t have a glycol allergy.

3. Remember that “natural” doesn’t tell you anything about glycols. Here’s a cream by a company that calls itself The Eczema Company that the company considers safe for people with allergies, yet the ingredients are listed like this:
Natural, alcohol-free cream base with propolis, calendula, hydrocotyle (pennywort), and a blend of homeopathic remedies (non-cortisone).
What’s in the “cream base?” Remember that because polyethylene and propylene glycols are “Generally Recognized As Safe” (GRAS) they can be included in a “natural” product. If they are inactive ingredients, they often don’t need to be listed at all.

4. Remember that “hypoallergenic” doesn’t tell you anything about glycols. Companies have certain customers in mind when they advertise. Almay made its fortune advertising their “hypoallergenic” makeup only because it was unscented. Read the ingredients in Almay’s Clear Complexion Concealer (ingredients I highlighted in bold are glycols):

Active Ingredient: 1% Salicylic Acid. Inactive Ingredients: Aqua (water), Cyclomethicone, Butylene Glycol, Dimethicone, Boron Nitride, PEG/PPG 18/18 Dimethicone, Talc, Tribehenin, Trisiloxane, Cetyl PEG/PPG 10/1 Dimethicone, Trimethylsiloxysilicate, Alumina, Nylon 12, Methylmethacrylate Crosspolymer, Polyisobutene, Synthetic Wax, Cera Microcristallina Cire Microcrystalline (Micocrystalline Wax), Sodium Chloride, Fomes Officinalis Extract (mushroom), Tocopheryl Acetate, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Centaurea Cyanus Flower Extract (cornflower), Spiraea Ulmaria Extract (meadowsweet), Chamomilla Recutita Flower Extract (matricaria), Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein, Phytantriol, Methoxypropylgluconamide, Panthenol, Panthenyl Ethyl Ether, Sorbitan Sesquioleate, Triethoxycaprylylsilane, HDI/Trimethol Hexyllactone Crosspolymer, Methoxy Amodimethicone/Silsequioxane Copolymer, Silica, Methicone, Phenoxyethanol, Methylparaben, Ethylparaben, Propylparaben, Tetrasodium EDTA, May Contain: Zinc Oxide (CI77947)

No fragrance, but hardly hypoallergenic for us!

5. Make your own foods and body care products from ingredients you know are safe. In a future post I’ll list some books and sites with body care recipes you might find useful.

I’m still on the lookout for products I can use that work for me, and you can find those here and here, but if you only take away one thing from reading this blog, it’s that you have to be responsible for knowing what works for you. No one else can do that for you. I can recommend products, but only you can decide if they’re safe for you. My friend over at The Allergista recommends products all the time that would send me to the hospital – but that’s because she’s only allergic to propylene glycol, so she can use all kinds of things with polyethylene glycol that I can’t.

Take care of yourself – you’re the only one who really can!