What Is Propylene Glycol?

What Is Propylene Glycol?

Propylene glycol is a viscous, colorless liquid compound that is nearly odorless but possesses a faintly sweet taste. It is found in industrial-grade levels in products like antifreeze, cushions, and paints.

In foods, the levels are considered pharmaceutical-grade and are a common food additive or ingredient in cosmetic products, spices, and natural flavors. Propylene glycol as a food additive is “generally recognized as safe” given its toxicological profile by The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).


What is Propylene Glycol?

Propylene glycol (1, 2-propanediol) is synthetic diol alcohol that is an almost tasteless and odorless compound derived from petroleum products. In pharmaceutical preparations, it is used as a solvent.

For cosmetic products, it stabilizes products keeping them from melting in high heat or freezing at lower temperatures. In food applications, it preserves moisture in products and helps dissolve colors and flavors. It is often used as:

  • An Anti-caking agent
  • An Antioxidant
  • Dough strengthener
  • Thickener
  • Stabilizer
  • Solvent
  • Emulsifier
  • Preservative

Propylene glycol is found in many different food products. However, in our experience, it is rarely listed on the nutrition label. That is because if it is used as a flavor or color, or carrier or solvent instead of a direct ingredient, it is not required to be listed on the nutrition label. Common foods that contain propylene glycol, but do not list them on the ingredient labels include:

  • Soft Drinks
  • Frozen Meals
  • Artificial Sweeteners
  • Foods with Natural Flavorings
  • Spices
  • Marinades and Dressings
  • Cake Mixes
  • Frosting
  • Food Colorings
  • Baked Goods

Arguments for the Use of Propylene Glycol in Food or Cosmetics

Propylene glycol as both a direct and indirect food ingredient additive is “Generally Recognized As Safe” (GRAS) by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In Europe, it’s only allowed to be used as a solvent or emulsifier, and must not exceed 0.45 grams per pound in the final product.

Apart from people with allergies, or cases of excessive consumption, there have been no other reported cases of its adverse or toxic effects in foods. In fact, the toxicity profile is very low, and the incidence of toxicity is rare.

In fact, most cases of toxicity resulted from high doses of medication or unusual circumstances, such as one man who drank the contents of an ice pack. To date, no reports have shown that it is linked to cancer or reproductive health concerns, and, there are no reported deaths on record from its consumption.


Arguments Against the Use of Propylene Glycol in Food or Cosmetics

Main Argument Against the Inclusion:

The World Health Organization recommends a maximum consumption of 25 mg/kg/day (1. 8 g/day for a 75 kg male) of propylene glycol when used as a food additive. Although toxicity is rare, estimates suggest that current intakes are above the recommended level.  Therefore, it may be wise to reduce the dietary sources of the compound.

Potential Health Risk:

In individuals with normal liver and kidney function, propylene glycol is removed from the blood reasonably quickly and excreted. However, in individuals with kidney disease or liver disease, this process may not be as efficient.

This may lead to a buildup of propylene glycol and lactic acid in the bloodstream, causing symptoms of toxicity and acidosis. Therefore, it may be dangerous for those with kidney or liver disease.


It is estimated that roughly 3.5% of people have an allergy to propylene glycol. The most common skin reaction, or dermatitis, is the development of a rash on the face, or a generalized rash all over the body from exposure. Systemic, generalized dermatitis has been reported after eating foods with propylene glycol, or from taking medications that contain it.

Availability of Substitutes:

A common substitute is Propanediol. Propanediol is derived from corn sugar fermentation instead of petroleum.  Further, there are non-synthetic substances that are available that are perfect substitutes.

Why It Is Not Allowed in Paleo Certification:

Propanediol and Propylene Glycol are not allowed in any Paleo Certification programs. Propylene Glycol is a synthetic substance, Propanediol is derived from grains. Further, Paleo substitutes are widely available.


How to Avoid Propylene Glycol in your Food

The majority of foods containing propylene glycol are processed foods. By consuming a fresh whole foods diet, you can avoid most sources. While life doesn’t always work that way, you can rest assured that Certified Paleo products do not contain these additives.

Propylene glycol is not an allowed cosmetic ingredient or food additive in our programs. Certified Products were screened against during the auditing process to ensure that they do not contain it.




2 Responses

  1. Jan, I have the same allergy and have been using products with this substance which was reccomeneded by doctors and dermatologists for years before I knew I was allergic. Unfortunately it is not different in america. My doctors insisted I use more steroids creams and packs and allergy medications before even thinking about testing for sensitivity even when I told them the products were making it worse. I now mention this to every doctor I come into with to make them aware because unfortunately it is a fault to the big Pharma. In America is is also hard to find packaged food that lists this as in ingredient because it is not required ?!!! I cannot beleive this can be allowed. If someone was deathly allergic to peanuts would you not list peanuts on the ingredient list because it was only in trace amounts ?

    • Agreed!!! I don’t know if I have an allergy but I do know that if I eat even one bite of something containing propylene glycol that I wind up with the worst stomachache and vomiting the entire contents of my stomach out over the next 12 hours. Horrible, and often it happens when I eat something that does not list it as an ingredient!

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