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Just What Is Polyethylene? (And Is it Safe For My Skin?)

by Beverly Hills MD

October 14 2016

PolyethyleneIs there plastic in your toothpaste? The answer may surprise you…

These days, there’s plastic in everything…and honestly, it’s not all bad… especially if you’re talking about certain types of polyethylene.

Polyethylene is found in hundreds of things we see and use in a daily basis, including plastic grocery bags, plastic bottles, plastic toys, and plastic containers. It is the most common type of plastic used by manufactures for the production of medical and diagnostics instruments, and it is widely used for making film, packaging, and bulking agent.

It is also used in cosmetics. Eyeliners, eye shadows, mascara, lipstick, and blush-ons are just some of the many beauty products that may contain polyethylene.

Is it good for your skin? Let’s take a closer look at polyethylene and find out.

What Is Polyethylene?

Polyethylene (PE) is a type of plastic or ethylene polymer which was first produced accidentally by German Chemist Hans Von Pechmann in 1899. It was a white, waxy substance. Flash forward a few years, and that substance was identified as polymethylene, which is almost identical to polyethylene.1

What Is It Used For?

PolyethylenePlastic surgery

You have probably heard about surgical procedures such as rhinoplasty and facial reconstruction. In these medical procedures, the use of artificial materials is necessary to reconstruct injured tissues that may have been caused by various medical conditions such as burn, trauma, cancer and even skull fractures where cranioplasty is required.2,3

One example of implant that is used as a filler or extended septal graft in rhinoplasty, whether functional or for cosmetic purposes is Medpor®. It’s a porous, high-density polyethylene (HDPE) found to be safe and stable.4 HDPE is also used in many packaging products including milk, juice, and water bottles, and as an ingredient in basic household items including shampoo, detergent, cleaners, and motor oil. It is also being used in manufacturing industrial items, including pipes, canvas, crates, buckets, bins, and plastic film.5


Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) is used in leave-on and rinse-off products. A study by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert reports that because the FDA considers PET safe in medical devices, it can also be considered safe to use PET and its byproducts in cosmetics. Studies also show that the use of eye cosmetic products containing PET showed no visual or skin irritation.6

Skin Care and Medical Products

Polyethylene glycols (PEG) and its byproducts are used in medicine and cosmetics because they have a low acute and chronic toxicities. Additionally, their solubility and viscosity properties make them safe and ideal for use in cosmetics.7 Polyethylene glycols are widely used in many skincare and medical products including conditioners, deodorant, and laxatives.8

Wait a Minute — Isn’t Polyethylene Toxic?

You might be a little leery of using cosmetics containing polyethylene. However, the aforementioned Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) safety program has determined that skin care products with polyethylene are not toxic. The CIR Expert Panel is made up of professionals in the areas of toxicology, dermatology, pharmacology and even veterinary medicine. It also includes experts with both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.9

What Is Polyethylene | Beverly Hills MDAccording to the panel, polyethylene is safe for in personal care as well as cosmetic products. One of the reasons why, according to the CIR, is that polyethylene polymers are large. As a result, the skin does not experience any type of potentially dangerous absorption. The presence of any impurities would be so low that there are no toxicity concerns.

Safety tests have failed to show any toxicity associated with cosmetic-grade polyethylene. The panel did address concerns that glitter makeup products containing polyethylene could cause eye irritation, but there have been no case reports or issues. In addition, there have been no FDA recalls of glitter products since 1985. As a result, the CIR Expert Panel concluded there are no concerns regarding eye injuries due to glitter products that contain polyethylene.10

As we mentioned before, plastic, in the form of polyethylene, can be very useful in cosmetics, plastic surgery procedures and beauty products. As chemists like to say: better living through science when used responsibly!

Article updated: March 27, 2018

1. Rodriguez F, Stevens M, Preston J, Kauffman G, Bierwagen G, Gent A. major industrial polymers – Polyethylene (PE) | polymer. Encyclopedia Britannica. 2016.  Accessed October 4, 2016.
2. Mohammadi S, Ghourchian S, Izadi F, Daneshi A, Ahmadi A. Porous high-density polyethylene in facial reconstruction and revision rhinoplasty: a prospective cohort study. Head & Face Medicine. 2012;8(1). doi:10.1186/1746-160x-8-17.
3. Abuzayed B, Tuzgen S, Canbaz B, Yuksel O, Tutunculer B, Sanus G. Reconstruction of Growing Skull Fracture With In Situ Galeal Graft Duraplasty and Porous Polyethylene Sheet. Journal of Craniofacial Surgery. 2009;20(4):1245-1249. doi:10.1097/scs.0b013e3181acdfaf.
4. Kim Y, Kim B, Jang T. Use of Porous High-Density Polyethylene (Medpor) for Spreader or Extended Septal Graft in Rhinoplasty. Annals of Plastic Surgery. 2011;67(5):464-468. doi:10.1097/sap.0b013e3182045741.
5. Betty Kovacs R. Plastic: Health and Disease Prevention – What is polyvinyl chloride (PVC, vinyl)? – MedicineNet. MedicineNet. 2016. Accessed October 4, 2016.
6. Becker L, Bergfeld W, Belsito D et al. Safety Assessment of Modified Terephthalate Polymers as Used in Cosmetics. International Journal of Toxicology. 2014;33(3 Suppl):36S-47S. doi:10.1177/1091581814537001.
7. Fruijtier-Pölloth C. Safety assessment on polyethylene glycols (PEGs) and their derivatives as used in cosmetic products. Toxicology. 2005;214(1-2):1-38. doi:10.1016/j.tox.2005.06.001.
8. Polyethylene Glycol 3350: MedlinePlus Drug Information. Medlineplusgov. 2016. Accessed October 4, 2016.
9., Accessed March 26, 2018.
10, Accessed March 26, 2018

Beverly Hills MD Dermal Repair Complex