Take a peek in your make-up bag, at the lotion in your bathroom cupboard, or the bottle of shampoo in your shower. Chances are, if you scroll through the list of ingredients, you’ll likely find the abbreviation “PEG” somewhere on that list.
PEG stands for polyethylene glycol and is a compound you can find lurking in more places than you might think. But just how safe is polyethylene glycol?
Today we’re going to explore not only some of the known and well-documented side effects of this compound – but we’re also going to look at some of the emerging and speculated side effects that may have a significant impact on its future use. Let’s dive in.
What Is Polyethylene Glycol?
Polyethylene glycol, or PEG for short, is a type of compound that’s derived from the by-products produced during the refinement of petroleum, natural gas, or coal.1 Polyethylene glycol is not a single chemical entity in and of itself. Rather it’s a category of compounds in which polyethylene and glycol have been bonded together.
Different forms of polyethylene glycol are usually delineated by placing a number after the abbreviation “PEG,” such as PEG-100, PEG-3350, and so on. This number represents the molecular weight of that specific compound.
Polyethylene glycol compounds are what’s known as hydrophilic – meaning they dissolve in water and tend to attract water.2 Because of its hydrophilic properties, polyethylene glycol has been utilized in many day-to-day products. Let’s explore some of the common uses for polyethylene glycol.
Polyethylene Glycol Uses
So what exactly is polyethylene glycol used for? Polyethylene glycol can be highly useful and is found in a wide range of products such as:
One of the most widespread uses of PEG is in a class of medications known as osmotic laxatives, which are used to treat constipation. Because of PEG’s hydrophilic nature, it can draw fluid into the intestines and help hydrate stool. This allows for easier passage during bowel movements.
When used as a laxative, polyethylene glycol is typically taken in powder form mixed with water or juice and can be found under various names including:3
- Sunmark ClearLax
But polyethylene glycol can also be found in more inconspicuous places.
Personal Care Products:
Because of their affinity for dissolving in and attracting water, PEGs are regularly utilized in cosmetics as:4,5
- Emollients: Which help lubricate and soften skin or hair
- Emulsifiers: Which act as an agent to help water-based and oil-based ingredients combine properly
- Depth enhancers: Serving as a vehicle to help other ingredients penetrate into deeper levels of the skin or hair
Polyethylene glycol’s hydrophilic properties make it a highly practical compound in countless cosmetic and personal care products – from make-up to hair shampoo, and from anti-aging creams to baby wipes.
In topical application, I do not believe there is a concern about use of PEG. In fact I use my own clean beauty products, like the Dr. Jill Biopeptide Beauty cream that contains trace PEG daily.
PEG is also widely used in the production of pharmaceutical products, including:6
- As bases for ointments and creams
- As vehicles within drug capsules
- Binders in tablets and pills
- Suspension aids in liquid prescriptions
- As cell-penetrating enhancers in vaccines
While found extensively in personal use products like prescriptions, cosmetics, and soaps, PEG can also be found in other places.
PEG can be found in a variety of industrial processes and products, such as:7
- Wood preservation
- Chemical mixtures
- Leather processing
There’s no denying that polyethylene glycol is incredibly useful, but it has also been stirring up some controversy – having been linked to some undesirable effects with frequent ingestion or from contamination… read more below.
So, Is Polyethylene Glycol Toxic to Humans?
The answer to this question is – it’s complicated. You see, polyethylene glycol derivatives in and of themselves are not necessarily toxic or dangerous. The real concern surrounding polyethylene glycol is three-fold:
- Pollution: The process to produce polyethylene glycol requires a chemical reaction known as ethoxylation and the use of compounds known as ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane – two chemicals that have well-documented toxic effects on humans.
- Contamination: PEGs are widely utilized for their ability to enhance penetration and absorption. But this also means that prolonged use or high doses of PEG can significantly enhance your body’s absorption of other toxins and harmful compounds that are found alongside PEGs or within the environment.
- Lack of studies: Because polyethylene glycol has numerous derivatives and molecular weights, extensive studies have only been conducted on a handful of different PEG compounds. There is limited information on the real impact of PEGs as a whole and more PEG toxicity research is needed to truly understand this compound’s effects on the human body.
Despite a lack of studies or a clear picture of the exact impact PEG compounds have on our bodies, we do know that this compound can have some negative side effects.
Polyethylene Glycol Side Effects
Some of the confirmed and documented side effects of polyethylene glycol include:8,9
- Polyethylene glycol allergy: Although not commonly seen, there have been documented cases of an allergy to PEG. Some cases have even resulted in anaphylaxis – a severe and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. Due to the risk of exposure to polyethylene glycol, the FDA has issued a warning to anyone with a known or suspected PEG allergy to communicate clearly with healthcare professionals as PEGs can be found lurking in medications, vaccines, contrast agents, and more.
- Digestive issues: If taken orally, polyethylene glycol can cause stomach upset such as diarrhea, flatulence, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, etc.
- Electrolyte imbalances: Because of its ability to disrupt the flow of water, PEG can also cause electrolyte imbalances. This may involve a decrease or increase in crucial electrolytes like calcium, sodium, potassium, and phosphate. It has also been linked to an increased risk of metabolic acidosis, which is a build-up of acid and toxins in the body.
While these side effects are well-documented, there are growing concerns about other possible polyethylene glycol toxicity symptoms.
Polyethylene Glycol Toxicity Symptoms
While it’s well-known among the medical community that PEG can trigger an allergy, cause digestive upset, or lead to electrolyte imbalances, there have been more and more reports of neurological symptoms associated with polyethylene glycol. Because of this reported increase in neuropsychiatric side effects, parents and pediatric practitioners are becoming increasingly wary of administering polyethylene glycol to adolescents.
A recent study found that a large percentage of parents, caregivers, and practitioners described an explosion of neurological side effects seemingly correlated to polyethylene glycol administration. Those side effects include:10
- Abnormal behavior
- Mood swings
- Sensory disturbances
Exactly how and why polyethylene glycol is triggering these neurological symptoms is still not entirely clear. And whether or not these side effects also extend to adults and geriatric patients will require further studies as well.
So, How Worried Should I Be About Polyethylene Glycol (PEG)?
Exactly how dangerous PEG truly is, is yet to be determined. But I’m a firm believer in being proactive and protective when it comes to your health. It’s not only impossible but also unnecessary to attempt to avoid PEG altogether. However, there are some simple yet powerful steps you can take to protect yourself against polyethylene glycol and other harmful toxins.
Here’s what I suggest:
- Prioritize clean supplements: You can find top quality professional supplements at Dr. Jill Health. I also recommend checking out my “products we love” page to browse through my tried-and-true non-toxic recommendations of some of my favorite things!
- Keep your gut happy and healthy: If you’re struggling with constipation, it’s likely a sign that your tummy could use some love. Instead of taking an over-the-counter laxative, I suggest addressing underlying issues and showing your gut some love. Click here to learn exactly how you can best heal and support your gut.
- Enhance your detox pathways: Coming into contact with PEGs and other toxins is inevitable. But minimizing your toxic burden and enhancing your body’s natural detoxification capabilities goes a long way in preventing a build-up of toxins. Some of my favorite ways to boost detoxification include PEMF therapy, infrared saunas, and coffee enemas.
While there’s certainly no need to be alarmed when it comes to exposure to polyethylene glycol, being mindful and proactive can go a long way in protecting yourself and your loved ones from its potentially toxic effects.
When It Comes to Your Health, You’re in the Driver’s Seat
The truth is, we live in an increasingly toxic world. But when it comes to protecting and optimizing your health, you are in the driver’s seat. The choices you make on a day-to-day basis are the foundation of your well-being.
That’s why I’m dedicated to bringing you easy-to-understand and easy-to-implement tips – to take the confusion out of healthy living. So if you enjoyed this article and are looking for even more ways to take control of your and your family’s health, I encourage you to head over and browse through my blog. It’s chock-full of hundreds of articles to help you make your health a priority – without the overwhelm.
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Now it’s time to hear from you. Were you surprised to learn about all the places polyethylene glycol is used? Have you or anyone you’ve known experienced any negative side effects linked to PEG? Leave your questions and thoughts in the comments below!
- #ChemicalCallout: Polyethylene Glycol Compounds (PEGs) (madesafe.org)
- Polyethylene Glycol – StatPearls – NCBI Bookshelf (nih.gov)
- Polyethylene glycol 3350 Uses, Side Effects & Warnings – Drugs.com
- Polyethylene Glycol – StatPearls – NCBI Bookshelf (nih.gov)
- The Dirty Dozen: PEG Compounds and their contaminants – David Suzuki Foundation
- Safety Evaluation of Polyethylene Glycol (PEG) Compounds for Cosmetic Use (nih.gov)
- Safety Evaluation of Polyethylene Glycol (PEG) Compounds for Cosmetic Use (nih.gov)
- Polyethylene Glycol-Induced Systemic Allergic Reactions (Anaphylaxis) – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Common and Rare Side Effects for polyethylene glycol 3350 oral (webmd.com)
- Probable neuropsychiatric toxicity of polyethylene glycol: roles of media, internet and the caregivers – Hussain – 2019 – GastroHep – Wiley Online Library
* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The product mentioned in this article are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information in this article is not intended to replace any recommendations or relationship with your physician. Please review references sited at end of article for scientific support of any claims made.
Thank you for this important article, Dr. Jill. I think there are enough reports of neurological effects in children for doctors to be more cautious about prescribing it. On a related note, I believe Sodium Benzoate is another ingredient that we need to be cautious about. It is a preservative, and “generally recognized as safe”. However, in certain circumstances, it can be transformed to benzene. I think it is likely that in the deodorants that were recently recalled because they were found to contain benzene, it was due to the sodium benzoate they contained. Benzene, as I am sure you know, is a dangerous carcinogen.
What a great article. Thank you so much, I was recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s and I’m trying to reduce my toxic load and I was just looking into PEG as it’s in my favorite shampoo and conditioner! Now I know it’s got to go!
The Wiley 2019 study referenced attributes this association (PEG + neuropsychiatric symptoms) to media hype? Are there any actual studies that explore the neuropsychiatric effects of PEG? Since PEG is used routinely for colonoscopies, it shouldn’t be too difficult to study?
Hi Dr. Jill, what do you recommend for colonoscopy prep? Thanks for the article and info. Angela
My doctor said to use Miralax for colonoscopy prep. The procedure showed no GI problems, but ever since I have had headaches, bloating, and brain fog of an unknown origin. I will never use Miralax again.
Hello – I’ve been working with a functional medicine doctor since 2012 to “heal my gut” and have done everything under the sun to do so. The best thing I’ve found is the Carnivore Diet and removing almost all fiber. When I go back to eating more fiber, I cannot live without Miralax… otherwise I’d be doing an enema every other day. (Yep, I’ve been there too.) I agree about the chemicals and toxicity… but when I’ve tried everything else and have spent thousands of dollars on Stool analysis testing, along with every probiotic, and prebiotic and gut supplements galore… I truly don’t know what else to do. I try to stay low fiber so that I don’t have to use Miralax every day. But for some of us, (note, I have Celiac along with 2 decades of chronic antibiotic use and several abdominal surgeries that have likely caused some intestinal adhesions)… my gut has taken a toll. I either have to be super strict and Carnivore or stay on Miralax when I’m not, in order to have healthy bowel movements. It’s miserable when pooping (or lack of pooping) takes over your life. It’s also not good to leave things in there and be constipated… as we reabsorb medications and hormones too, and those become toxic to our bodies as well. Sometimes, I have to choose, do I want the Miralax or do I want the toxicity of what’s recycled and poisons being released from being constipated for days and days. So far… I have less toxicity with the Miralax, than being constipated all of the time. The constipation REALLY messed up my health and hormones.
You might try SUPREP instead
I hear you when you say pooping…or the lack of it… can take over your life. I have had constipation problems for the past year. I’ve never had so much difficulty having daily BMs!. I’m still trying to sort it out.
One natural remedy that did work great for me us pure celery juice first thing in the morning. I juice a whole stalk of celery and then drink it. It works within 2 hours. Just stick real close to the toilet! I’ve also tried Vegan diet. Meat , dairy products are slow to digest. I was told to cook my vegetables real well. And I turn my fruit and raw veggies into a smoothie so my stomach has less work to digest the food. For me it’s either celery juice or senekot so far. Hope all gets sorted out for you.
Several years ago I was given a GI prep containing PEG and had an anaphylactic reaction. A few months later I broke out in hives from skin care products containing PEG. I’m very aware of PEG reactions. That is part of the reason I haven’t had the mRNA vaccine.
Hello Dr. Jill,
THANK YOU for your articles !!
We do not know if we or someone we know has been affected. But, we are on a mission to find and use clean products, more and more.
Please let us know…
We found “Propylene Glycol” in a hydrating hair oil mist.
Is “Propylene Glycol” the same (or just as toxic) as “Polyethylene Glycol” ??
And, if so, what ALTERNATIVE substance(s) might we look for instead.
Thank you much,
(We’re also interested in the answer to Angela’s question above, re colonoscopy prep !!)
Not sure if I am allergic to PG but will watch for rxn when I prep for colonoscopy. Kaiser prescribed other meds with corn that I am allergic to and do not care. I told them I will have gas rather than anaphylaxis. My oxaloacetate has stopped working since infected with Covid and CFS returned. Any new ideas? I did try increasing dose to 1000/day. 700 was great for energy and brain symptoms. Now DIZZY and fall over if I shut my eyes when showering if I do not hold on. Thank you for all you do. Cindy
I am a Canary – super-sensitive to many things and stay away from food additives, sprays, perfumes and chemicals and live as organic a lifestyle as possible. In prep for colonoscopy I took almost two doses of Restoralax (PEG 3350). Although it was supposed to be tasteless in water it seemed rather plasticy to me. I shuddered with each gulp. Dose two I added some cherry juice, then more cherry juice. I didn’t like the idea of drinking something made with petrochemicals in the first place and tried to ignore my thoughts. I took a few gulps and set it on the side table while I watched a movie. About half way through the glass me ears started to rumble and heart palpitate.
Butterflies or rumbling in my ears is the first signal I’ve eaten something wrong and a migraine may be on the way. Ten or so minutes later I took another big gulp. Within minutes the rumbling got louder and my eyes started bouncing around. Then came erratic heart beat. Fortunately it didn’t last long but came on a few short stints during the evening. My balance was off when I stood up. I TOOK NO MORE! I felt on the edge of a migraine and drank a bunch of water as dehydration can make migraines worse.
In the morning I still felt off. I phoned the doctor’s office. In the meantime I’d found a few places online saying migraines and arrhythmia were rare but usually found in women 60+. (Me) I told the office of my experience and they claimed migraine, headache or heart issues were NOT in the list of side effects but I had a dispute. They suggested alternates to two of the 3 preps. I looked up the ingredients and they were the same thing. I refused to take anymore. “Oh, but you have to”. “No mam, I do not HAVE to!”. So, the procedure has been cancelled.
That 2nd day I felt off in the head all morning and but impending migraine feeling passed. However, what was odd was, as someone who frequently needs to pee, and fast, each time I peed all that came was a tiny trickle. All that moisture that’s supposed to go to the bowel must have been pulled from my bladder.
The Canary in me loudly chirps “Stay away from PEG!”.
I was wondering exactly what you experienced. Where does the PEG get the water from in our bodies? It was suggested I take Restoralax today by a RPN.
I am taking 3 senekot a day for daily BMs and she was concerned my bowels will get lazy. Well, I’m a canary as well. ( on a side note…..are you HSP…highly sensitive person…this is a nervous system trait that is normal and inherited…about 20 % of population is HSP).
One of the many sensitivities that HSP people have is to medication, OTC.
I’m not planning on taking the Restoralax. Think I already tried it and it either didn’t work or I researched and found out from petroleum.
Hi Dr. Jill
Thank you for this important article. After seeing 13 doctors (I’m on your waitlist), the best conclusion I can come to is that I have sensory & neurological issues kicked off by a combo of the shingles and covid vaccines. In my research & discussion with others with similar symptoms, I’ve discovered that both vaccines contain polyethylene glycol. If you’re seeing others with vaccine reactions and have any theories, I’d sure love to hear. I know this is a hot topic when it comes to vaccines but there is a lot of people I’m meeting in a similar situation to mine that are suffering with post-vaccine reactions. We need help! Thank you for all you do!
Yes, I understand completely Frances I am sorry you are struggling so – since the pandemic we are seeing massive rise in autoimmunity and neurological injury so you are not alone. I am closely following the science…
Very interesting. .neurological injury…sounds like exactly what my 3rd covid vaccine caused in my arm. I’ve had intense fluctuating pain in the injection site where I had my 3rd covid vaccine. I have had this pain for A YEAR. Prior, I had pain from both 1st and 2nd covid vaccines that lasted up to 6 months. I was referred to orthopedic doctor today for the pain in my arm. I have a depression diagnosis along with anxiety, panic. I’ve been communicating my pain to a variety of health care professionals for almost a year and the registered nurse practitioner ( I live in Canada) whom I saw today is the first person to take me seriously. Sometimes I wonder if this is because of my being on antidepressants. I’m well educated so I take the assumption that ‘it’s all in my head’ as an insult. I hope orthopedic Dr can help.
I have a severe reaction to PEG. The first time I took it for a colonoscopy, I couldn’t walk to the bathroom. I was home alone and drugged my self on the floor to the bathroom. The second time I was in the hospital and within 8 oz of drinking the PEG prep, I couldn’t walk again. The nurse had to stay with me continuously for the next 4 hours.
The third time, I found it in my NP Thyroid. I called Switzerland and talked to the pharmacist that make it. It was not listed on the ingredients.
The fourth time I had an ultrasound for a biopsy on my kidneys. I reacted the same way – couldn’t move, but this time I had full body shaking. I was in the recovery area of the hospital and they wanted to admit me, but it resolved in 2 hours. Muscles would tighten for a second, then release.
The last time was this week and it was the worse reaction ever! I was taking sodium bicarbonate pills 675 mg for acid buildup in my blood. I had taken 3 pills, one Tuesday night, One Wednesday morning and Wednesday night. By Wednesday evening, the pain in my ankle was awful, it felt like I had broken my ankle. Around midnight I hobbled to the bathroom, I thought I might have a blood clot as I am getting over Covid from August 30th. I did have the monclonal antibodies without PEG but it did have polysorbate in the infusion. By 3:30am Thursday I am screaming in pain like a shard of glass is in my heel, I can no longer move or feel my left leg. It is as heavy as lead. i AM SHAKING ALL OVER! I knew then I was in a reaction to PEG. The allergy is on all my medical records, and I looked at the new prescription, and PEG is not listed as an ingredient.
Thursday AM, I called my PC dr. They saw me immediately. They did an ultrasound on my left leg looking for a blood clot, an xray to rule out a broken ankle. Nothing found. By 2pm Thursday afternoon , I can begin to walk on my leg. I am still shaking all over. By Friday morning, I am walking, no pain, but occasionally shaking in my hands and feeling jumpy. By Friday afternoon – everything has resolved. I did have the ultrasound gel washed off immediately after the test with soap and water. I came home and took a shower immediately.
I order all my soaps, toothpaste, shampoos without PEG or Polysorbate or any derivatives of petroleum products.
I would like to know what is actually happening in my body when I accidently ingest PEG. I avoid all food dyes, I don’t have a gasoline car, EV for me! No carpets or drapes in my house. My mattress is organic cotton.
Wow! Sounds like what I went through from 6 different meds for insomnia. A couple of times I wanted to die. Ended up in ER 7 times over 6 months. I’m going to get a Medic Alert bracelet. May I suggest the same for you?
I’ve even been prescribed an anti-inflammatory that has serious contraindications ( like internal bleeding) with a medication I take! I returned the anti-inflammatory to pharmacy for refund. Don’t think their red flag alert system was working on their computers that day. Hope you are better.
I have suffered with a PEG allergy for 40 years that has got worse with the use of PEG in just about everything.For me covid was a life saver I started reading about the effects of PEG and the products and medications that it was in and it was a light bulb moment. When I eat or take products that contain PEG my stomach swells and spasms, my anus blisters and the whole area goes red. It also affects me internally I have been treated for irritable bowel ,ulcerative colitis ect. I get tired ,dry mouth, and rashes and I wont go into the colonoscopy drama. I now use a citric acid based product for colonoscopy. If I use creams that contain peg I wake in the night with headaches that feel like I am being scalped and my blood pressure goes above 180 my normal blood pressure around 95.This is a small list of the problems this product has caused me . I believe that many people with gut problems who are being prescribed medications are being made sicker as the cause of the problem is PEG. It is a silent killer and it should be banned.
I have adverse neurological reactions to breathing petrochemicals in ambient air. Unfortunately, the more powerful laundry products used by neighbors are spreading heavy loads of toxicity. I looked up info on a brand that claims odor lasts 12 weeks. Ingredient Polyethylene Glycol was listed as a Perfume Dispersant.
Killing me not softly!
Thank you for your article. I came across this article when researching for information on the PEG ingredient in my colon prep prescription. I was shocked to see PEG listed as the first ingredient as I am a label reader and have been investigating ingredients for the last five years or so. It was too late for me at that point to change my preparation plan for my routine colonoscopy. I would like to know if you have knowledge about safe swap/alternative in stead of PEG3350. I’d like to choose a safer option for the future.
You might try Suprep?
For probably 2 decades I have struggled with reactions to menstrual pads (inflammation of the mucous membranes that mimicked UTI symptoms), and kept trying to find brands that were organic, all natural, etc, only to still have problems. As “medical devices” manufacturers of these products are not required to disclose ingredients/materials. Finally two years ago after having yet another reaction, I looked at the packaging and saw PEG. I looked it up and lo and behold it was in medications that I’ve had strange and concerning reactions to. One of the most alarming for me is that injectable medication seems to impact my eyesight, making it very difficult for my eyes to focus.
If you ever update this article, please consider mentioning the use of PEG on menstrual products as I searched for years in vain to figure out what I was reacting to. And while I respect that you may not want to get embroiled in vaccine debates, even a little wording of “including in mRNA varieties” next to your mention of vaccines could better help the public decide what vaccines are or are not safe for them specifically. I consider myself extremely fortunate that my eureka moment with the menstrual pads happened just as I was signing up for vaccines.
Last year my colonoscopy prep was a total fail, even though I did exactly what they said to do. (I had been constipated for a very long time.) My GI said to take Miralax and psyllium husk every day and then try again three months later. I did that, and all was well. He said I have a “tortuous” colon and that I should continue to take Miralax every day to avoid getting constipated. (My diet and gut health are good!) He said some people take it for the rest of their lives, and it’s completely fine to do so. So I have continued to take it every night, and my bowels move regularly and gloriously! I have no adverse effects from the Miralax that I can tell.
Do you think it’s fine to continue with Miralax under these circumstances?
While I don’t think miralax is completely toxic, there are much more natural alternatives to avoid constipation like SuperMag, buffered C powder or Essential Fiber
“Among those who reported using only one type of laxative, only those using osmotic laxatives had a statistically significant higher risk of all-cause dementia (aHR, 1.64; 95% CI, 1.20 – 2.24) and vascular dementia (aHR, 1.97; 95% CI 1.04 – 3.75).”
First published February 22, 2023, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1212/WNL.0000000000207081