Final report on the safety assessment of Triethylene Glycol and PEG-4

Int J Toxicol. 2006:25 Suppl 2:121-38. doi: 10.1080/10915810600964642.


Triethylene Glycol and PEG-4 (polyethylene glycol) are polymers of ethylene oxide alcohol. Triethylene Glycol is a specific three-unit chain, whereas PEG-4 is a polymer with an average of four units, but may contain polymers ranging from two to eight ethylene oxide units. In the same manner, other PEG compounds, e.g., PEG-6, are mixtures and likely contain some Triethylene Glycol and PEG-4. Triethylene Glycol is a fragrance ingredient and viscosity decreasing agent in cosmetic formulations, with a maximum concentration of use of 0.08% in skin-cleansing products. Following oral doses, Triethylene Glycol and its metabolites are excreted primarily in urine, with small amounts released in feces and expired air. With oral LD50 values in rodents from 15 to 22 g/kg, this compound has little acute toxicity. Rats given short term oral doses of 3% in water showed no signs of toxicity, whereas all rats given 10% died by the 12th day of exposure. At levels up to 1 g/m3, rats exposed to aerosolized Triethylene Glycol for 6 h per day for 9 days showed no signs of toxicity. Rats fed a diet containing 4% Triethylene Glycol for 2 years showed no signs of toxicity. There were no treatment-related effects on rats exposed to supersaturated Triethylene Glycol vapor for 13 months nor in rats that consumed 0.533 cc Triethylene Glycol per day in drinking water for 13 months. Triethylene Glycol was not irritating to the skin of rabbits and produced only minimal injury to the eye. In reproductive and developmental toxicity studies in rats and mice, Triethylene Glycol did not produce biologically significant embryotoxicity or teratogenicity. However, some maternal toxicity was seen in dams given 10 ml/kg/day during gestation. Triethylene Glycol was not mutagenic or genotoxic in Ames-type assays, the Chinese hamster ovary mutation assay, and the sister chromatid exchange assays. PEG-4 is a humectant and solvent in cosmetic products, with a maximum concentration of use of 20% in the "other manicuring preparations" product category. This ingredient, with an oral LD50 in rats of 32.77 g/kg, has low acute toxicity. Rats given up to 50,000 ppm PEG-4 in drinking water for 5 days showed no permanent signs of toxicity. Rats given daily oral doses up to 2 g/kg/day of PEG-4 for 33 days showed no signs of toxicity. Undiluted PEG-4 produced only minimal injury to the rabbit eye. PEG-4 was not mutagenic in Ames-type assays, did not induce chromosome aberration in an in vivo bone marrow assay, and was negative for genotoxicity in a dominant lethal assay using rats. Other PEG compounds, which have previously been reviewed by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel, e.g., PEG-6, are mixtures that likely include Triethylene Glycol and PEG-4, so these data were also considered. PEG-6 and PEG-8 were not dermal irritants in several rabbit studies. PEG-2 Stearate had a potential for slight irritation in rabbits but was not a sensitizer in guinea pigs. PEG-2 Cocamine was a moderate irritant in rabbits, producing severe erythema. In one dermal study, PEG-2 Cocamine was determined to be corrosive to rabbit skin, causing eschar and necrosis. PEG-6 and PEG-8 caused little to no ocular irritation. PEG-8 was not mutagenic or genotoxic in a Chinese hamster ovary assay, a sister-chromatid exchange assay, and in an unscheduled DNA synthesis assay. In clinical studies on normal skin, PEG-6 and PEG-8 caused mild cases of immediate hypersensitivity; PEG-8 was not a sensitizer; PEG-2 Stearate was not an irritant, a sensitizer, or a photosensitizer; and PEG-6 Stearate was not an irritant or sensitizer. In damaged skin, cases of systemic toxicity and contact dermatitis in burn patients were attributed to a PEG-based topical ointment. The CIR Expert Panel acknowledged the lack of dermal sensitization data for Triethylene Glycol and dermal irritation and sensitization data for PEG-4. That PEG-6, PEG-8, and PEG-2 Stearate were not irritants or sensitizers suggested that Triethylene Glycol and PEG-4 also would not be irritants or sensitizers, and the absence of any reported reactions in the case literature and the professional experience of the Expert Panel further supported the absence of any significant sensitization potential. The need for additional data to demonstrate the safety of PEGs Cocamine was related to the Cocamine moiety and is not relevant here. The Panel reminded formulators of cosmetic products that, as with other PEG compounds, Triethylene Glycol and PEG-4 should not be used on damaged skin because of cases of systemic toxicity and contact dermatitis in burn patients have been attributed to a PEG-based topical ointment. Based on its consideration of the available information, the CIR Expert Panel concluded that Triethylene Glycol and PEG-4 are safe as cosmetic ingredients in the present practices and concentrations of use as described in this safety assessment.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Consumer Product Safety*
  • Cosmetics / toxicity*
  • Expert Testimony
  • Humans
  • Polyethylene Glycols / toxicity*
  • Risk Assessment


  • Cosmetics
  • triethylene glycol
  • Polyethylene Glycols