What is Propylene Glycol in Skincare: A Comprehensive Guide
The skincare industry has become a powerhouse of modern cosmetics and one of the leading industries in the first world. Maintaining our skin has become a full-time job in most cases since everyone has a unique complexion that alters how sensitive our skin is to environmental factors.
The differing complexions between people make it difficult to adopt someone else's routine without adjusting to yours. Blindly adopting a routine without considering how your skin might react can backfire and damage your skin instead of treating it. Furthermore, it is important to know what kind of products you are putting on your skin since some of the available resources are known to have severe side effects. Some products are famous for their beneficial effects, but identifying them can be difficult if you are not well-versed in skincare.
One of the lesser-known resources for skincare is propylene glycol, which most people are unfamiliar with. Despite the lack of general information surrounding propylene glycol in skincare scenarios, it is a fairly popular addition to modern routines. Unfortunately, that same lack of data has made it difficult for newcomers to introduce it to their routines.
As a result, anyone interested in using it to enhance the quality and health of their skin might need to reinvent their routine to accommodate the new resource. Of course, the biggest question is: What does propylene glycol offer for skin that makes it a viable tool?
What is Propylene Glycol?
Propylene glycol is an interesting substance that has strange characteristics, allowing it to serve as a resource for multiple products and purposes. Propylene glycol is a viscous, colorless liquid with a subtle odor and faintly sweet taste. The substance was initially discovered in 1859 by Charles Adolphe Wurtz, a French chemist responsible for identifying multiple chemicals.
Despite its origins, the substance was not used as a medical tool until 1932 to replace another chemical Wurtz discovered: ethylene glycol. Originally, ethylene glycol was used as a solvent and transporter for a bismuth product frequently used to treat syphilis, a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that can be cured via penicillin. Despite its original use, propylene glycol has become a malleable resource with multiple applications.
The number of uses increased after it was determined that propylene glycol could be consumed without poisoning the consumer. While the substance is mildly toxic, one must consume large quantities to experience negative effects.
Insofar as skincare is concerned, propylene glycol can be used for a few reasons, but the phrase "toxic" often makes people avoid it. Fortunately, there is not much information supporting the toxicity of propylene glycol on the skin, and the main concerns are born from the compound from which propylene glycol is synthesized.
One of the main sources of propylene glycol is petroleum, a substance used to manufacture gasoline, which is toxic if ingested. This causes people to assume propylene glycol is equally toxic and should not be applied to the skin, let alone ingested. However, several board-certified dermatologists have confirmed that propylene glycol has a different composition than petroleum and is inert; therefore, it is safe to put on your skin.
The only risk associated with propylene glycol was discovered by the Environmental Working Group, which states the compound has been linked to mild cases of irritation and contact dermatitis. The substance is regularly used in several foods, cosmetic products, and chemical products like coolants and plasticizers.
Insofar as skincare is concerned, propylene glycol is used in the cosmetics industry and is found in several products designed to enhance the skin's health and appearance. The question most people have is about the benefit of applying propylene glycol to the skin.
Propylene Glycol is a Preservative
One of the main features of propylene glycol is that it is a preservative that helps other substances survive longer. This is one of the main reasons it is used in several foods and snacks since extending the expiration date improves the odds of someone purchasing and consuming them.
While this effect is most notable for its impact on food, it extends beyond food and applies to the cosmetic products it is used for. Propylene glycol is an antimicrobial, which protects products from microorganisms that normally colonize these products and damage the compounds that make them beneficial. This helps preserve the product's integrity and ensures it will help your skin rather than damage it.
Cosmetic products, especially those that take advantage of natural ingredients, are at risk of developing these bacterial colonies. This is an inescapable reality of most products since everything goes bad eventually.
Propylene glycol is not the only preservative used in cosmetic products but is one of the most common. That said, there are other benefits the substance provides to cosmetics and skincare tools.
Propylene Glycol Controls Viscosity
Skincare products come in various forms, usually differing in texture and density. Cosmetic creams, lotions, mists, and other products have different application methods. The viscosity of cosmetic products is usually controlled by other compounds that have an effect on the molecules of certain ingredients.
Propylene glycol is one of the compounds that affect the density and thickness of the products it is used to make. Specifically, propylene glycol reduces the thickness of other compounds and enables the manufacturer to create lighter products. Propylene glycol is usually used to reduce the density of skin creams and lotions to create lighter versions of the substance for people who want a product that will not weigh down on their skin. Many people find heavier skincare products uncomfortable and will avoid them in favor of lighter creams.
In all likelihood, lighter skincare products must have propylene glycol as an ingredient to reduce the density. Propylene glycol's ability to control the viscosity of a substance makes it valuable to manufacturers that want to deliver a lighter product. However, it also affects what the product does to the skin, reinforcing its value in the skincare industry.
Propylene Glycol is a Humectant
Some of the most important skincare products are designed to resolve the issue of dry skin, which can cause cracking and irritation. Dry skin is a common issue that can affect multiple regions of the body, especially the hands. You will experience itchiness and a feeling of tightness around the skin when it dries out.
The feeling is unpleasant at best and painful at worst, making it an issue to be avoided whenever possible. In extreme cases, dry skin can lead to complications that endanger your health and the quality of your skin. Dry skin, if left untreated, can cause atopic dermatitis (eczema) or lead to infections due to bacteria slipping through the cracks. Combating this issue requires products that moisturize the skin and restore its original composition.
Moisturizers, also known as humectants, can be found in several natural compounds and plants. The interesting part is that propylene glycol is also a natural humectant, enabling it to revitalize the moisture in your skin.
Propylene glycol attracts moisture to the skin, allowing us to absorb it and restore the natural water levels in our skin. Typically, hydration is accomplished by our bodies producing sebum (skin oil), but the sebum on our skin can be stripped away. Harsh soaps, environmental hazards, and other common issues can reduce the sebum that normally keeps our skin hydrated.
Humectants can compensate for the diminished concentration of sebum in our skin so we can maintain a healthy complexion. Propylene glycol can accomplish the same goal and enhance other cosmetic products with the ability to moisturize the skin. This is a highly beneficial effect that most do not realize exists, but it is not the only moisturizing effect of propylene glycol.
In addition to being a humectant, propylene glycol is also an emollient, which provides similar hydration benefits. The thing that makes emollients special is that an emollient also soothes the skin, reducing irritation and pain from skin conditions. Emollients are commonly used to treat the symptoms of eczema, making them an invaluable resource for people with the condition.
Emollients work by creating an oily layer on the skin that serves as a barrier between your skin and the elements. This effect doubles as an extra form of hydration, making emollients a double feature that can radically improve your skin's health and appearance if used properly. This has contributed to propylene glycol's prevalence in the cosmetics industry, but not everyone is fond of it.
Alternative to Propylene Glycol
While propylene glycol is a multifaceted compound with several effects on the products containing it, not everyone is willing to use it. Even though no evidence proves propylene glycol is toxic, some focus more on natural compounds to improve their skin. While it might seem strange, some natural compounds provide similar, if not superior, benefits for skincare.
Propylene glycol is, by nature, a chemical that not everyone is eager to put on or in their body, but the situation changes when the substance is something that is enjoyed regularly. There is a plant called Camellia sinensis, known by its common name as the tea plant. C. sinensis plants are best known for their ability to produce leaves that can be used to steep green, yellow, oolong, white, and black teas.
Most people do not realize that this plant is also responsible for creating a superior variant of traditional green tea. When C. sinensis plants are grown in the shade, the leaves are saturated with higher concentrations of the nutrients that make green tea beneficial. The leaves cultivated from these plants produce matcha, which is accepted as the best quality green tea available. Green tea is renowned for health and cosmetic benefits among holistic enthusiasts, but matcha is practically revered for offering the same benefits more effectively.
Matcha has several benefits that originate from its concentration of polyphenols, specifically the catechin epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). EGCG has several effects, but one of the most important is that it reduces inflammation. Inflammation contributes to dry skin and inhibits our natural ability to moisturize the affected area. The EGCG in matcha enables us to rehydrate our skin and reduce the associated inflammation, making it a valuable addition to skincare products like moisturizers.
While matcha is extremely beneficial for skincare, there is another substance that takes a leading role in natural skin protection. Coconut oil is a fatty oil that, as the name implies, is created from coconut meat and milk. The oil derived from coconuts is rich in nutrients and protein but also provides a key benefit for our skin. Specifically, coconut oil is considered one of the best natural moisturizers in existence.
There have been several studies confirming that coconut oil can reduce inflammation and restore the skin's hydration. As a result, coconut oil is one of the most commonly used bases in skincare products and is often combined with other beneficial compounds like matcha to fortify the effect. The biggest challenge is finding a moisturizer that focuses on natural ingredients and combines the best options.
Finding the Right Blend
Skincare has become one of the most successful industries worldwide, though some products are more successful than others. Regardless, the use of propylene glycol is hit-or-miss since several people are eager to avoid using a chemical on their skin. Fortunately, natural alternatives like matcha and coconut oil provide an option that suits the needs of individuals who want a more holistic approach. Unfortunately, finding a natural product that contains all the best ingredients can be challenging since many products focus on a single feature.
We at Teami have always maintained that the best solutions for health and appearance come from nature. That is why we have dedicated ourselves to creating products made from natural ingredients to help people reach their ideal selves without chemical intervention. One of our main products is our Superfood Moisturizer, Lightweight Daily Cream, which uses matcha, coconut oil, and several other natural ingredients to restore and revitalize the skin. We encourage you to visit our website and try our product directly. After all, finding the right blend is a Teami effort.
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