2D structural formula of Ethylene glycol


What is it?

“Ethylene glycol (IUPAC name: ethane-1,2-diol) is an organic compound with the formula (CH2OH)2.  It is mainly used for two purposes, as a raw material in the manufacture of polyester fibers and for antifreeze formulations. It is an odorless, colorless, sweet-tasting, viscous liquid. Ethylene glycol is moderately toxic.” Wikipedia

What are the effects?

This substance belongs to the groups:

The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) identifies that this substance “is harmful if swallowed and may cause damage to organs through prolonged or repeated exposure.”

Ethylene glycol is on the Red List* from Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a project of Breast Cancer Prevention Partners (previously the Breast Cancer Fund). They classify the substance as an endocrine disruptor, developmental toxicant and of occupational concern.


Even though it is not listed on the ingredient labels, products with with this substance may contain toxic impurities from:

  • 2-Methoxyethanol – linked to damaged fertility, organ system toxicity and developmental toxicity.
  • Ethoxyethanol –  linked to damaged fertility and developmental toxicity. Ethoxyethanol is classified as a ‘Substance of Very High Concern’

* “The Red List includes chemicals found in personal care products that pose serious, chronic health concerns including cancer, hormone disruption, and reproductive and developmental harm. The list also flags chemicals that are banned or have use restrictions by the U.S. or other world governments, ingredients that adversely impact worker health, and ingredients that are widely used in products marketed to women of color.” – Campaign for Safe Cosmetics

How is it used?

Ethylene glycol is used as a fragrance ingredient, humectants (holds and retains moisture), solvent, viscosity decreasing agent in cosmetic products*.

We use the European Commissions definition of Cosmetics:
“Cosmetics range from everyday hygiene products such as soap, shampoo, deodorant, and toothpaste to luxury beauty items including perfumes and makeup”.

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Read about the other ingredients.