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Polyethylene glycol, what to avoid?

The short answer

When you have an allergy to polyethylene glycol (PEG) molecules, you should have a list of what to avoid. The first line in dealing with allergies is to avoid allergens. This article provides you with the best answer about what to avoid with polyethylene glycol allergy.

Key facts:

  • Polyethylene glycol (PEG)is a synthetic versatile polymer that is widely used in the pharmaceutical field.
  • PEG and PEG derivatives are also used in food manufacturing
  • You can find PEG and/or PEG derivatives in many cosmetic products and other household products that are used daily.
  • PEG allergy is a serious life-threatening hypersensitivity reaction against products that contain PEG or PEG derivatives or other molecules that have close structural similarities to PEG.
  • PEG allergy is induced by the specific antibodies to PEG molecules known as anti-PEG antibodies.
  • Anti-PEG antibodies are formed in your body you are exposed for the first time to PEG in food, cosmetic or pharmaceutical products that contain PEG molecules.
  • When you are exposed to PEG-containing products allergic reaction could result when your body already has anti-PEG antibodies.
  • Similar to other allergic reactions, the first line in dealing with allergies is to avoid allergens
  • When you have a history of PEG allergy, you should check carefully the ingredients in all medication you take or any other cosmetic products you will use.

What is polyethylene glycol allergy | How does polyethylene glycol allergy occur | What to avoid with polyethylene glycol allergy | FAQs

What is Polyethylene allergy?

Polyethylene glycol (PEG) is a synthetic polymer that is widely used in numerous products. It is used in the manufacturing of medications such as tablets, capsules, creams, and ointments. Also, it is widely used in makeup and cosmetics such as skin care, and hair care products. In addition, you can find PEG in foods and food additives.

Despite the fact that PEG is generally recognized as safe by the FDA, nevertheless, mild to life-threatening immediate-type hypersensitivity reactions have been reported from PEG and PEG-containing products

The PEG hypersensitivity clinical manifestations range from generalized urticaria to anaphylactic shock (Ref).

How does polyethylene glycol allergy occur?

Research reported that there are anti-PEG antibodies present in more than 70 of the population. This antibody could be a problem in some instances and lead to what is known as PEG allergy.

This increased percentage of the population having anti-PEG antibodies is attributed to the widespread of PEG in many products of daily use.

While some people dealing with PEG-containing products cause no problem, others could lead to allergies with different degrees of response that could lead to anaphylaxis (Ref).

We did research and found a review that reported only 37 cases of PEG allergy from 1977 to 2016. However, only 28 of these cases had severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis)

A recent 2020 study reported that PEG allergy is related to the molecular weight of PEG molecules. Lower molecular weight PEG as PEG 2000 showed a lower risk of developing hypersensitivity than PEG with higher molecular weight.

Another main point to make you take care of PEG-containing products is PEG impurities. It has been reported that PEG contains impurities such as ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane.

  • These compounds are carcinogenic and harmful to your respiratory system.
  • The 1,4 dioxane is linked to lung, breast, and liver cancer.
  • Despite reports referring to the PEG with lower molecular weight is safer. The fact that PEG is a penetration enhancer also promotes the penetration of these impurities into your skin. (Ref).
  • Read more about PEG allergy.

How to avoid polyethylene glycol?

In case you have an allergy to PEG, the main and most important step is to avoid exposure to PEG.

You have to look for PEG in your products. look for “polyethylene glycol,” “polyethylene oxide,” and “polyoxyethylene.” which are alternative names for PEG.

  • As PEG is widely used in numerous products, you have to check the labels of cosmetics, medication, food, and every product you use.
  • Here are brief notes about PEG in products you commonly use.

Polyethylene glycol in cosmetics:

  • You have to check the ingredientss of your skincare products. Check your soaps, lotions, shampoos, creams, hair care, makeup, shaving cream, and every cosmetic product.
  • PEG is widely used in cosmetic products. It acts as a surfactant, thickener, softener, solubilizing agent, and skin conditioning. They help enhance the absorption of ingredients into the skin
  • You can find this polymer in many and many cosmetic and hygiene products.
  • If you have a PEG allergy, It is important to avoid any products containing PEG.

Polyethylene glycol in toothpaste:

  • PEG is used in different toothpaste. It is a hydrophilic polymer and is used as a humectant in toothpaste.
  • Also, it is used to stabilize the consistency of the toothpaste to keep it from running off your toothbrush.

Polyethylene glycol in foods:

  • You may find PEG in foods. It is used as a food preservative and supplement.
  • Up to 2010, the average percentage of foods labeled to contain PEG was 0.04 %, this percentage has increased

What medications contain polyethylene glycol?

  • PEG is widely used in the manufacturing of different pharmaceutical products.
  • In some cases, PEG is used as the active ingredient of the medication. For example, Miralax which is an over-the-counter product contains PEG with a laxative effect.
  • On the other hand, PEG is used as an inactive pharmaceutical ingredient that is widely used in the manufacturing of tablets, capsules, creams, and ointments.
  • In general, PEG has low systemic absorption. When it is taken orally, less than 0.5 % of the administered dose is absorbed and reaches your blood circulation.

Here are some medications containing PEG (Ref):

  • NERISONE® cream
  • BETNEVAL® cream
  • MiraLAX (PEG 3350)
  • Purelax
  • Clearlax
  • Laxatives such as Movicol.
  • Depot steroid injections.
  • Tylenol tab (Acetaminophen)
  • Cataflam, Voltaren (Diclofenac sodium delayed-release )
  • Pepcid, Pepcid AC (Famotidine 20 )
  • Zyrtec (cetirizine hydrochloride)
  • Ultram (tramadol)


1. What is another name for polyethylene glycol?

You may find polyethylene glycol writing with different names such as

  • Macrogol
  • Polyethylene oxide (PEO)
  • Poly(oxyethylene) (POE)

2. Is polyethylene glycol and propylene glycol the same thing?

No, polyethylene glycol and propylene glycol are not the same.

Polyethylene glycol is a large polymer with repeated units of ethylene oxide and its chemical structure is H-(O-CH2-CH2)n-OH.

Propylene glycol is a small single and has the chemical formula of CH3CH(OH)CH2OH.

3. Is polyethylene glycol safe for humans?

Yes, For a long time, Polyethylene glycol has been Generally Recognized As safe (GRAS) by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) food and drug administration.

However, in the last two decades, numerous studies reported immunogenic responses against PEG molecules, and also hypersensitivity reactions were reported in many cases that use products containing PEG.