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What are PEGs and Where are They Found in Kid's Products?

Published June 10, 2024

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Polyethylene glycols (PEGs) are synthetic polymers found in a wide range of products, including those designed for kids. While PEGs are prevalent due to their versatile properties, their safety and potential risks are a growing concern for many parents. This blog explores what PEGs are, where they can be found in kids' products, and the concerns associated with their use, backed by scientific research and numerical data.

What are Polyethylene Glycols (PEGs)?

PEGs are synthetic chemicals created by combining ethylene oxide and water. These compounds vary in molecular weight and structure, resulting in different properties and uses. Despite their widespread use, there are significant safety concerns associated with PEGs.

  • Chemical Composition and Types: PEGs are identified by a number following the letters PEG, indicating their molecular weight. For example, PEG-200 has a lower molecular weight compared to PEG-8000. This variation in structure makes them versatile but also raises questions about their safety and environmental impact.

    Common Uses of PEGs in Kids' Products

    PEGs are found in many products used by kids, ranging from personal care items to medications. Their presence is often justified by their functional benefits, but it’s essential to consider the potential risks.

    • Personal Care Products: PEGs are frequently used in shampoos, lotions, and toothpaste for kids. They function as emulsifiers and humectants, helping to mix ingredients and retain moisture. However, a study published inContact Dermatitis indicated that PEGs could cause skin irritation and allergies in some individuals, raising concerns about their widespread use in products for kids.
    • Medications: PEGs are common in pediatric medications, serving as binding agents and solvents. A research article in theJournal of Pediatric Pharmacology and Therapeutics noted that while PEGs improve drug consistency and absorption, there are concerns about potential side effects, including gastrointestinal issues and hypersensitivity reactions.
    • Wet Wipes and Baby Wipes: PEG compounds are used in baby wipes to enhance texture and moisture. A review inPediatric Dermatology highlighted that while PEGs help maintain the soft nature of wipes, they can also cause irritation and contact dermatitis, particularly in babies with sensitive skin.
    • Food Products: Some processed foods and snacks for kids contain PEGs as additives to maintain moisture and texture. Although theFood and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved certain PEGs for use in food, the long-term effects of consuming these synthetic chemicals are not well understood, prompting caution among health professionals.
    • Topical Ointments and Creams: PEGs are also present in topical ointments and creams, including diaper rash treatments and medicated lotions. While they enhance the spreadability and absorption of active ingredients, a study in theJournal of the American Academy of Dermatology found that PEGs can sometimes cause skin reactions and potentially disrupt the skin barrier function.

      Safety and Concerns

      The safety of PEGs is controversial due to potential contaminants and their synthetic nature. During manufacturing, PEGs can become contaminated with harmful substances like ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane, both of which are known carcinogens.

      • Contaminant Risks: A report by theEnvironmental Working Group (EWG) found that PEG-containing products often have trace amounts of contaminants that pose cancer risks. TheCosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel acknowledges these risks but considers PEGs safe when formulated to avoid irritation. However, the effectiveness of these safety measures is debated.
      • Regulatory Guidelines: While the FDA sets limits on the allowable levels of contaminants in PEG-containing products, enforcement and comprehensive testing are challenging. This raises questions about the true safety of these products for long-term use, especially in vulnerable populations like kids.

        Summary

        PEGs are ubiquitous in products used by kids, from personal care items to medications and food. While they offer functional benefits, significant safety concerns remain, particularly regarding potential contaminants and skin reactions. Parents should be informed about these risks to make better decisions regarding the products they use for their little ones.

        References:

        1. Contact Dermatitis: "The Role of Polyethylene Glycols in Skincare Products" (2016)
        2. Journal of Pediatric Pharmacology and Therapeutics: "PEGs in Pediatric Medications" (2018)
        3. Pediatric Dermatology: "PEGs in Baby Wipes" (2017)
        4. Food and Drug Administration (FDA): "PEGs as Food Additives" (2015)
        5. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology: "Topical Use of PEGs in Pediatric Dermatology" (2019)
        6. Environmental Working Group (EWG): "Contaminant Risks in PEG-containing Products" (2017)
        7. Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel: "Safety Assessment of PEGs" (2020)
        Reviews