What is Propylene Glycol?

It is synthetic liquid that has no odor, no color, and no taste. Relatively thicker than water, this syrupy substance is capable of retaining moisture.

Propylene Glycol

Propylene glycol is a popular synthetic substance given its many uses. It is considered generally safe to be ingested making it one of the most utilized food additive. It is also a common ingredient in different cleaning, cosmetic, and hygiene products. Here are more facts about propylene glycol.

What it is

With many names such as methyl ethyl glycol, trimethyl glycol, propanediol, and dihydroxypropane, this substance can be easily mistaken for something else. So what is propylene glycol? It is synthetic liquid that has no odor, no color, and no taste. Relatively thicker than water, this syrupy substance is capable of retaining moisture. Since it dissolves easily especially in water, it has become a go-to food additive especially for drinks and processed foods.

It is commonly mistaken for a similar sounding substance called ethylene glycol. While propylene glycol in food is safe, ethylene glycol is the exact opposite. Due to its high toxicity, ethylene glycol is not used as a food additive.

Propylene Glycol in Food

It is counterintuitive to consider propylene glycol in food dangerous given that it is a popular food additive. In fact, the US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) categorizes it as GRAS or generally recognized as safe. However, there is an important caveat in this recognition. Propylene glycol in food does not pose any threat to human health for as long as a person sticks to recommended amount of intake. The World Health Organization pegs this amount at 25mg of propylene glycol per kilogram. Anything in excess may cause life-threatening side effects.

One has to note that there has not been any report of death due to an overdose of propylene glycol. However, to be on the safe side, it would be best to keep track of the amount of propylene glycol in the food or beverages a person consumes on a daily basis. Most common sources of this substance include fast food, bread, dairy products, dressings, dried soup, cake mix, popcorn, food coloring, soda, and drink mixes.

How it is used

Propylene glycol has many uses apart from being a food additive. Here are some of them:

  • Preservative. Since this substance has antioxidant properties, it has the ability to keep certain foods fresh for a longer period of time. Since it retains moisture, propylene glycol can also slow down certain food such nuts and cereal flakes from drying out.
  • Strengthener. Propylene glycol promotes stability in dough since it also has the ability to modify starches and gluten. Once this happens, the dough strengthens and has better consistency. This substance also holds food components or thickens them.
  • Anti-clumping. This substance also ensures that food components do not clump. Without propylene glycol, food like cheese, soup, and oatmeal can easily clump together making the food less palatable. This substance prevents that from happening.
  • Dissolver. Another good thing that this substance does is that it breaks down other additives and nutrients making it easier for the human body to absorb them.
  • Enhancer. It enhances the appearance and texture of food and beverages.
  • Cosmetic value. Propylene glycol is used as an ingredient for make-up and other cosmetic and hygiene-related products.
  • Industrial value. This substance can be found in paint, e-cigarettes, and even the usage of antifreeze.


As mentioned earlier, propylene glycol is safe to ingest. It is NOT known to be the substance behind genetic damage, cancer, infertility, dementia, or even HIV. There are many misconceptions where propylene glycol is considered so one has to keep both eyes open.

The rule of thumb is to stick with recommended dosage. This is so because excessive quantities can lead to kidney failure or acidosis. While very rare, it is better to be safe than sorry. Stick to recommended dosage or suffer possible poisoning.


Cases of poisoning from propylene glycol are very rare. However, if it happens, you can try hemodialysis which is the removal of drugs or substances that contain propylene glycol. Let a qualified health professional do this for you to avoid further complication from botched operations.

Other considerations

If you have the following conditions, it is best that you steer clear from propylene glycol in the meantime. Here are those conditions:

  • Depression
  • People with Kidney Diseases
  • People with Liver Concerns
  • History with Heart Ailments
  • Critically Ill Patients
  • Pregnant or lactating women
  • Infants

One has to take note that propylene glycol is known as the 2018 Allergen of the Year. If you have sensitive skin or a sensitive tummy, it is best to steer clear from this substance and find an alternative.

For the most part, propylene glycol in food or in cosmetic products are generally safe to use clearing this substance from any case of poisoning. It would be best, however, if you still keep track of the amount that you are taking per day. You can do this by making sense of the supplement facts found on the back of the plastic packaging of your food or beverage of choice. If you are still not confident, it would be best to consult your physician. Only he/she can greenlight ingestion of propylene glycol given a person’s dietary and health considerations. The only consolation here is that cases of poisoning are few and far between and there is an effective way to remedy it just in case some negative symptoms manifest.

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