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Propylene glycol or 1,2-propanediol, is a colorless, nearly odorless and hygroscopic chemical. It is synthesized by bringing about the hydration of propylene oxide. It is miscible with water and can dissolve numerous dyes and resins. These properties render this chemical as an effective solvent for various industrial processes and a useful additive in cosmetics, medicines and food products. However, it has its own set of side effects as well.

Dangers of Propylene Glycol

According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), propylene glycol is generally regarded as safe (GRAS), for use as an additive under certain specified conditions. However, workplace exposure to high concentrations and prolonged exposure to low amounts of propylene glycol may lead to minor allergic symptoms as well as severe health problems.

Some of the side effects and health risks have been given below.
  • Oral toxicity is very low, however, frequent ingestion may cause nausea and vomiting in some individuals. Accidental ingestion at workplace can cause temporary or permanent abnormalities in the heart, liver and kidney functions.
  • Occupational skin exposure to this chemical, may lead to itchy skin accompanied with rashes. Washing the exposed area of the skin with water and getting rid of the chemical will provide relief.
  • Prolonged inhalation of the propylene glycol fumes in the workplace may induce temporary chest pain and discomfort.
  • Propylene glycol and other volatilized products present in the air at home have been identified as a risk factor for asthma and acute respiratory problems.
  • Liquid or vaporized propylene glycol may cause mild eye irritation and may also induce redness and pain. In such cases, eyes must be quickly rinsed clean with cool water.
Note: In case of eye or skin irritation due to propylene glycol do not use any drops, creams, lotions or medicines without consulting an expert. In case the medicine you apply contains propylene glycol, the symptoms will worsen rather than subsiding.

Uses of Propylene Glycol
  • Propylene glycol is an additive in various food products like salad dressings, fat-free ice creams, food colors, popcorn, sour cream and cake mixes.
  • It is used in household items like sanitizers, room deodorizers, toiletries and cleaning agents.
  • It is used as an emollient and softening agent in cosmetics and medicines.
  • This chemical is replacing ethylene glycol in the modern cooling systems and antifreeze applications.
  • It is used as a solvent in paints, inks, electronic cigarettes (for dissolving nicotine), and is also used in the synthesis of various chemicals.
Products containing propylene glycol can cause mild eye and skin reactions whereas acute workplace exposures may lead to severe health hazards. Allergic reactions and respiratory problems might be the result of an acute exposure in atopic people. In case of any severe allergic symptoms, it is best to consult an expert immediately.

Disclaimer: This Buzzle article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.