Propanediol for Skin: Dangerous Additive or Helpful Solvent? - Dr. Axe

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Propanediol for Skin: Dangerous Additive or Multipurpose Solvent?


Propanediol - Dr. Axe

If you’ve looked at an ingredient list on any of your cosmetic or beauty products, you may notice the name of a common chemical. Propanediol is a natural solvent with many uses, which is why it’s often found in personal and beauty care products.

Propanediol is really drawing attention in the cosmetic space because it may be a much safer option than propylene glycol, a synthetic substance that’s also found in cosmetic products and has potentially dangerous side effects.

So is this multipurpose chemical safe when applied topically to our face and body? Hint: It’s likely better than the alternative.

What Is Propanediol?

Propanediol (also called 1,3-propanediol) is a natural solvent and emollient that’s derived from corn sugar. It’s typically clear and odorless.

The propanediol formula is C3H8O2. It’s considered the simplest member of the class of propane-1,3-diols.


The solvent is found in cosmetics and personal care products, such as face cleansers, lotions, toners and makeup.

Although the chemical is similar to propylene glycol, it’s thought to be a safer options, which is why it’s getting a good bit of attention in the cosmetics space. In fact, researchers suggest that it has gone from a “speciality chemical” to a “commodity chemical.”

Related: What Is Caprylyl Glycol? (Plus Top Benefits and Uses for Skin)


Propanediol is a versatile ingredient that’s used in cosmetic and body care products for its many functions. So why are you likely to see propanediol as an ingredient on so many beauty and body products?

Here’s a breakdown of its many benefits and uses:

1. Serves as a Solvent

Propanediol is commonly used as a solvent that’s able to dissolve substances that are found in cosmetic formulas.

2. Works as an Emollient

Propanediol is a natural emollient that moisturizes the skin when applied topically. It works to reduce water loss, leaving your face feeling softer.

3. Promotes Preservation

Propanediol works as a natural preservative in skin care and body products. It can increase the shelf life of products and promote lasting freshness.

4. Improves Product Texture and Consistency

Because of its ingredient-dissolving, preserving and humectant effects, propanediol is used in several products to improve texture and consistency.

The solvent is often used in foaming face washes, for example, because it lends to the foam consistency that’s beneficial for people with sensitive skin.

5. Enhances Absorption

The chemical works as a penetration enhancer by altering the skin’s structure. This allows for other chemicals and ingredients in the skin care product to get deeper into the skin.

This can be viewed as a benefit and concern of using products containing the solvent. It enhances the absorption of beneficial chemicals that can impact the health of your skin and hair, but it also increases the penetration of not-so-healthy ingredients, allowing them to penetrate deeper into your skin.

Where It’s Found

As mentioned, this is a versatile solvent that’s found in a ton of cosmetic and personal care products. According to the propanediol EWG (Environmental Working Group) report, the chemical is found in the following types of products:

  • cleansers and body washes
  • facial cleansers
  • facial moisturizers
  • facial serums
  • lotions
  • makeup primer
  • body scrubs
  • foundations
  • concealers
  • eyeliners
  • blush
  • lipsticks
  • brow liners
  • mascara
  • bronzers/highlighters
  • hair dyes
  • antiperspirants/deodorants
  • shampoos and conditioners
  • styling gel
  • hair masks
  • hair spray
  • toothpaste
  • mouthwash
  • hand sanitizer
  • sunscreens
  • baby cleansers

Propanediol vs. Propylene Glycol

Propanediol, of 1,3-propanediol, is a natural chemical solvent that’s derived from corn and used in many body and face products. It is touted as a safer ingredient than propylene glycol (also known as 1,2-propanediol).

A little confusing, right? Although 1,3-propanediol and 1,2-propanediol are similar chemicals, the latter (which goes by propylene glycol) is linked to skin and eye irritations.


Propylene is made in a chemical process that begins with propene, which is a byproduct of fossil fuel. Propene is converted to propylene oxide, which is known as a probable carcinogen that’s used to create polyurethane plastics, and then the molecules are separated by water to get propylene glycol.

Propylene glycol is used in thousands of cosmetic products as well as processed foods, medications and electronic cigarettes.

There are differing opinions about whether or not propylene glycol is a dangerous toxin, with some investigated potential adverse effects being skin irritations, allergic reactions, neurological symptoms, respiratory issues and more. In essence, it has enough red flags to recommend avoiding it in your body products and foods.

Risks and Side Effects

The studies on propanediol safety are limited, but current data suggests that using it topically in cosmetic and body care products is generally safe, with a low risk of adverse effects.

When used in small amounts from topical skin products, the solvent has been found to exhibit few adverse effects. In some cases, people have experienced skin irritation after using the chemical topically.

In rats, high doses of the solvent has proven fatal, but this was when they inhaled propanediol vapors. This isn’t necessarily comparable to human experiences with the chemical.

The EWG report on the chemical suggests that it’s not expected to be toxic or harmful and not suspected to be an environmental toxin.


  • Propanediol is a natural solvent that’s derived from corn sugar and used as an ingredient in a range of cosmetic and beauty care products.
  • The chemical works as an emollient, preservative, skin softener, moisturizer and solvent. It’s used in a ton of beauty and body products, including lotions, cleansers, foundations, sunscreens and hand soaps.
  • Propanediol for hair is also useful, as it’s found in shampoos, conditioners, hair masks and hair spray.
  • Although the evidence on the chemical’s safety is limited, it’s being touted as a safer option than propylene glycol, which is derived from petrochemicals and has shown adverse effects like allergy symptoms and irritation.

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  1. Ann on

    “….it is touted…” is comparable to stating…”they say”
    Who exactly is they…?
    The mega giant chemical companies that have a huge grip and
    That does nothing to get at the real truth.
    Dr. Mr. Axe, whoever you are, you’ve just lost any possible faith I had in you or your group that “touts” to be a health person we could believe.
    Bye bye

  2. Cindy on

    Thx for the info. I will not be buying into the chemical if I can avoid it. Good to know. I was looking for a product from a well known holistic Dr. for internal female product. This was first ingredient. You have to check out everyone.

  3. Aisha on

    Listed as a component in lash and eyebrow gel in a famous brand, the “propelyne” in the name made me look it up. One of the issues not mentioned in the article is that it is derived from corn, which is one of the most (unless certified otherwise) heavily GMO’d and glycophosphate sprayed crops.

    Agreed, no thanks

  4. Sarah on

    What are the consequences to the health of skin from using solvents & penetration enhancers in multiple products twice a day every day for years on end?

    This is an ingredient that “alters the skins structure” to allow other ingredients to more easily cross your skin’s protective lipid barrier.

    While it may not be toxic, surely it can’t be best for your skins function as a protective organ.

    Is the rise in adult acne, rosacea, peri oral dermatitis etc a consequence of using these solvent’s & penetration enhancers daily in skincare?

    No thank you!

  5. Stuart on

    This was in the Baby Pillow Mist!!! Childs Farm Sleep Mist, Lavender & Moon Milk, SlumberTime

    1,3-Propanediol is mainly produced by the hydration of acrolein (aka propenal) and it is a solvent.

    It’s Dupont special..

    Acrolein / Propenal is produced industrially from propene and mainly used as a BIOCIDE.

  6. Sarah on

    How can applying a solvent to your skin be safe for your skin’s protective lipid barrier or skin microbiome? We need to start thinking about our skin microbiome in the same way as our gut microbiome.

    • Violet on

      Water is a solvent. In fact it is called the universal solvent because it is a solvent to so many things. Water is not typically dangerous to your skin. Boiling water is dangerous to your skin. This same type of thinking can be applied to many/most ingredients.

  7. Yvonne Short on

    As soon as I read it was derived from corn sugar I knew that meant it’s GMO. I was about to buy a product that has this stuff in it but thanks to your article I won’t be doing so now.

    How can applying a GMO derived substance to one’s largest organ be a smart idea?

    Thanks for alerting me.


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