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Polyethylene glycols: compounds useful in medicine and dermatology

Polyethylene Glicols - PEG

PEG are  polymers of an organic compound called Ethylene Oxide and it has been widely used in industrial manufacturing and medicine for many years. Their most known use is as a laxative via ingestion; they are not toxic or immunogens (they do not cause an immune response) and due to their ability to stabilize proteins are widely used as a vehicle for intra venous drugs injections.

Differences between dermatological ointment ingredients

PEG Petroleum Jelly Lanolin
Composition Definite Indefinite Partially definite
Moisture absorption High Low low
Non-stick properties High High medium
Comedogenic No Yes Yes
Breathability Yes No No
Ease of removal Yes No No

PEG ointment: comments to the table

As clearly shown the most used compounds such as petroleum derivatives and lanolin have some drawbacks when applied on the skin. They are in fact comedogenic and occlusive by blocking skin breathability, thus creating acne, blackheads, folliculitis and damaging the skin barrier function.

The nature of the composition poses also some question in terms of consistency. PEG formulation is “DEFINITE”, there is, synthetized and its composition is known and always the same. Petroleum Jelly Composition is “INDEFINITE” because it comes from the distillation process of the bottom of the oil barrels and depending of which oilfield comes from the percentage of oils, impurity and composition of minerals can be different. Lastly, Lanolin is “PARTIALLY DEFINITE” due to its animal origin; being a substance derived from the sheepskin, some fats are common to all ships and some derived from what they eat or metabolized, therefore the composition cannot be always the same.

Moisture balance is another important factor for wound healing and skin condition. Many skin problems are due to an imbalance of moisture whether in excess or lack thereof, therefore an ointment with hydrophilic property can help regulate this balance (i.e. absorbing excess exudate from wounds or open pustules of Atopic Dermatitis).

Allantoin

Allantoin is a plant-base substance used since ancient times for its healing, moisturizing and softening properties. The organic (biologically speaking) form is extracted from many plants but primarily from Symphytum Officinale also known as Comfrey. Along with its therapeutic properties Allantoin is also a non-irritant and gentle on sensitive skin, making it an optimal ingredient used in many cosmetics to promote cell proliferation and longevity.

Peg balm

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