Most of us take for granted that it’s safe to use the skincare products we buy. After all, if it’s sitting on a store’s shelf, it has to be safe to use, right? One of the big reasons we started Alder New York is that, even with the rules and regulations around cosmetics, there are still some ingredient loopholes that allow really dangerous stuff into the products we buy. And there’s one type of unsafe ingredient in particular that we find in almost every competitors’ products.
The Truth About PEGs
If you’ve ever looked at a skincare or haircare product and noticed the word PEG followed by a few numbers, that’s the ingredient we're talking about today. No matter what the end number, a PEG is a synthetic compound made by combining polyethylene (the most common form of plastic) and glycol.
The problem with PEGs is two-fold: the first is that they have a penetration enhancing effect, which means whatever is attached to them is more likely to enter your system. The second is that one of the by-products of making a PEG is a known carcinogen, 1,4 dioxane, which can contaminate the PEG. To make it even worse, in addition to 1,4 dioxane, PEGs also often contain impurities like lead, iron, cobalt, nickel, arsenic, cadmium and more, that are strongly linked to cancer and other dangers. So, when you see a PEG, not only are you getting the toxic impurities that came along for the ride, but the PEG has also now made them easier to enter your system.
PEGs Secret Synonyms
To make it even more complicated, as consumers have become more aware of the harmful effects of PEGs, companies have become smarter about how they list them. More and more "clean brands" still use PEGs, but they list the ingredient name as a synonym. Keep an eye out for PEGs that are listed as Polysorbate-60, Ceteareth-20, or Laureth-7. These three ingredients are even used by beloved brands like Glossier and The Ordinary.
If you ever see an ingredient and want to check the safety, we always recommend the Skin Deep Cosmetics Database by the Environmental Working Group. Simply put in the name of the ingredient, and they will provide a number from one to ten (one being the safest, ten the most dangerous) and unbiased evidence to support their rating. PEGs (and their synonyms) with always show "contamination" as a "high concern," and list the contaminates and their respective dangers. Remember 1,4 Dioxane, the by-products of making a PEG? It rates a eight, on the danger scale. Ethylene Oxide, another PEG contaminate, scores a whopping ten.
So, if PEGs are so dangerous, why do companies use them? Well, when it comes to formulating, PEGs are great. They often help to combine ingredients that otherwise have trouble mixing (like oil and water), and they can add a lovely texture to products. And also, PEGs are ethically tricky. Because they are not themselves toxic, it can be a bit of a moral grey line for corporations. Yes, it’s proven that they contain toxic impurities, but on the other hand, they themselves are not toxic…
We Don’t Do It
We at Alder New York have made our decision. For us, it just isn’t worth it to use PEGs. This does mean that it can take us a lot more time to formulate a product. We never want to lower the effectiveness or enjoyment of our products, so we will spend as much time as it takes to get both the consistency and effects we want, while skipping the Polysorbate-60. Trust us, it takes some time and hard work! But it feels so worth it to use our Everyday Face Serum and know that not only is it the most effective serum we’ve ever tired, but it’s the safest one as well.