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Polyethylene is a polymer made of repeating ethylene units. It is used in many makeup products such as eyeliners, mascara, eye shadows, eyebrow pencils, lipstick, blushers, face powders and foundations, as well as in skin cleansers and skin care products.
Polyethylene is used for a variety of purposes in cosmetics and personal care products. It is used to unite or bond surfaces together and to hold together the ingredients of a compressed cake. Polyethylene can be used to dilute other solids, or to increase the thickness of the lipid (oil) portion of cosmetics and personal care products. It helps to keep an emulsion from separating into its oil and liquid components. Polyethylene dries to form a thin coating on the skin, hair or nails. When used in oral care products, it polishes the teeth, reduces oral odor, or otherwise cleans or deodorizes the teeth and mouth.
Small, solid plastic beads made of Polyethylene, often called microbeads, are also used for exfoliating, smoothing, or polishing the skin. However, just because a product includes polyethylene on the ingredient label does not mean it contains microbeads; the polyethylene ingredient may be in liquid or other form to provide a different type of benefit in the product.
Polyethylene is made by linking ethylene molecules to form a larger molecule that has a branched chain structure. The molecular weight of Polyethylene can vary from 198 to 150,000, depending on the length of the chain. In addition to its use in cosmetics and personal care products, Polyethylene is widely used in food packaging materials and in medical devices such as prosthetics.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows Polyethylene to be used in chewing gum base provided its molecular weight is between 2,000 and 21,000. FDA also includes Polyethylene and modified Polyethylenes on the list of permitted indirect food additives. For example, Polyethylene may used as a component of paperboard in contact with food, and modified Polyethylenes can be used as basic components of food containers. The safety of Polyethylene has been assessed by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel. The CIR Expert Panel evaluated the scientific data and concluded that Polyethylene was safe for use in cosmetics and personal care products.
CIR Safety Review: The CIR Expert Panel concluded that Polyethylene was safe for use in cosmetic and personal care products. They noted the large molecular size of Polyethylene polymers used in cosmetics and personal care products and did not expect significant dermal absorption of Polyethylene. They noted that a lack of significant dermal absorption would limit systemic exposure to Polyethylene. The CIR Expert Panel was concerned that information on residual impurities remaining from the polymerization process was not available. However, the CIR Expert Panel considered the processes by which low density Polyethylene is made from ethylene, and in the United States, ethylene is 99.9% pure. Therefore, the concentration of impurities in any final polymer would be so low as to not raise toxicity issues. Furthermore, safety tests of cosmetic-grade Polyethylene have consistently failed to identify any toxicity. Polyethylene was negative in genotoxicity studies. The CIR Expert Panel noted that some studies showed tumor formation when solid pieces of Polyethylene were surgically implanted into the body. This solid-state carcinogenicity effect was not considered relevant for Polyethylene as used in cosmetics and personal care products. The available data supported the conclusion that Polyethylene was safe for use in cosmetics and personal care products.
FDA: Link to Code of Federal Regulations for Polyethylene
Polyethylene may be used in cosmetics and personal care products marketed in Europe according to the general provisions of the Cosmetics Regulation of the European Union.
Polyethylene is an ethylene polymer. Polymers are large molecules prepared from relatively small chemical compounds called monomers. If only one monomer is used in the synthesis, as in the case of Polyethylene, the resulting polymer is a homopolymer. In cosmetics and personal care products, Polyethylene is used as an abrasive, adhesive, binder, bulking agent, emulsion stabilizer, film former, oral care agent and as a viscosity increasing agent -nonaqueous.
Find out more about the regulation of Food Additives by the Food and Drug Administration
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