Is Your Bathroom Killing You?

Almost 13 years ago I wrote an article warning of the dangers of trusting manufacturers of our household goods with our health. Let’s face it; their primary goal isn’t our health or the environment or any other fanciful nirvana, but SALES. So it still surprises me to see propylene glycol, not only still in shampoos and toothpastes, but nowadays appearing as an additive in foods.

I visit many workplaces each year and get to meet so many interesting people and because my work means that I get to travel and regularly meet such a wide cross section of the Australian workforce, I hear about and occasionally am confronted with many stories of how cancer has affected an individual since my last seeing them. I know that propylene glycol is approved for use by Australian regulators. It’s deemed safe because each dose in each product is so small. But exposed to a toxic chemical in your soaps, shampoos, toothpastes and now your foods and little by little, year by year, you and your family are being legally poisoned.

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Here’s what I wrote 13 years ago…

Propylene Glycol is a petrochemical solvent used in a variety of industrial applications. Most commonly it is found in automotive anti-freeze or more often known as ‘coolant’. Other uses include the de-icing of aeroplane wings at airports by spraying the wings with a fog of Propylene Glycol and it lends itself to being used as a hydraulic fluid. It is a main component of brake fluid. Propylene Glycol is also used in the preparation of varnishes and synthetic resins.

It has many other uses but more on those later….

Colourless, moderately viscous combustible liquid and is miscible with water. It is hygroscopic, meaning that the product will absorb moisture from its surroundings and it is practically odourless with a slightly acrid taste[1].

It is a form of mineral oil, which can cause contact dermatitis. Repeated contact with mineral oils should be avoided and consequently, the National Institute of Health Science (USA) lists it as an allergen.

Minor skin contact can cause acne eruptions and a drying of the skin. On contact, it gives a smooth, greasy feel, but it does so by replacing and repelling important components necessary for healthy skin. In January 1991, a clinical review was published in the American Academy of Dermatologists, Inc. concerning dermatitis and Propylene Glycol. This report showed Propylene Glycol to cause a significant number of reactions and was a primary irritant to the skin even in low levels of concentration.[2] 

Material Safety Data Analysis (MSDS) sheets on Propylene Glycol indicate that contact with the skin can cause liver abnormalities and kidney damage.[3]

Medical testing has shown that repeated contact with skin or contact with large amounts of Propylene Glycol is absorbed through the skin and accumulates in the heart, liver and kidneys[4] (causing abnormalities and damage) and weakens the immune system.

If the material comes in contact with the eye it can produce eye discomfort, blinking, watering of the eyes and possibly an impairment of vision and/ or other transient eye damage/ ulceration. Repeated or prolonged exposure to the irritant may produce conjunctivitis.[5]

Next time you are at the supermarket or in your bathroom take some time to read the ingredients of your shampoo / conditioner, hand and body lotion, children’s bubble baths and also skin moisturisers. The manufacturers of deodorants, make up, hair dye and bath oils also make heavy use of Propylene Glycol. In cosmetics, a typical formulation is 10 – 20% Propylene Glycol. (Note: on most ingredient content statements. Propylene Glycol is often found near the top of the list – Indicating strong concentration.)[6]

Next time you take a shower or wash your hair (or your children’s hair) think about how much propylene glycol can be absorbed through the skin and its detrimental effects on your long term health.

A final statistic for you to consider: Which profession has 97% of it practitioners suffering from dermatitis and is fast becoming Australia’s leading risk group for Liver cancer.

Who?………….Hairdressers.§

[1] ChemWatch report 10708. Date of issue 10-12-1999.

[2] University of Utah Chemistry Division, web site April 2000.

[3] MSDS  131202

[4] “Propylene Glycol-Induced Proximal Renal Tubular Cell Injury” 1997 by the National Kidney Foundation, Inc. United States of America.

[5] ChemWatch report 10708. Date of issue 10-12-1999.

[6] University of Utah Chemistry Division, web site April 2000.

§ Workcover Australia 1999.