Welcome to the PEG Club!
I read an article not long ago about how they think a lot of people having allergic reactions to the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are allergic to PEG or Polyethylene Glycol. As someone with a known allergy to PEG, I thought I’d share some tips I wish I would have known over 10 years ago when I found out about my allergy. Hopefully this will help you all newly in the club to have an easier time of it. (By the way, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine does NOT have PEG in it – I got it this past weekend!)
Welcome to reading all of the labels of every (mostly non-food) item you put on or in your body for the rest of your life!
What to Look For
PEG is also known as polyethylene oxide (PEO) or polyoxyethylene (POE), depending on its molecular weight (per Wikipedia). I’ve found mostly it’s listed as PEG or Polyethylene Glycol, or PEG with a dash and some numbers. Go ahead and skim through that Wikipedia article, it’ll give you some good background.
Over The Counter (OTC) Medications and Supplements
We’re going to start here, because this is a huge one. PEG is in a LOT of OTC medications as an inactive ingredient. Manufacturers put it in just about everything. Benadryl, the antihistamine you go to when you’re having an allergic reaction, has PEG in it. How ironic… Go ahead to your medicine cabinet and pick out a few items. Check those labels (sometimes you have to peel back part of the label to get to the inactive ingredients). Advil, for instance, has one type of their variety that I’ve found to be free of PEG. I know that type, but I ALWAYS read the labels every time. Manufacturing processes and recipes change. Know that sometimes you’ll leave the pharmacy without what you came for, because everything you used to use has this new allergen in it. I’m sorry, it sucks.
One type of OTC medication that you really have to watch out for is laxatives. That’s how I found out I’m allergic to PEG! The generic or store brands will just be called PEG-3350, which make it easy to spot, but Miralax is just that as well. Again, read all of the labels (so the active ingredients as well as inactive)!
Like you learned from the vaccine, prescriptions can have PEG in them, too. Here’s where it gets super not fun and tricky – you have to actively advocate for yourself! As I posted before, pharmacies, doctors, and nurses sometimes drop the ball and give you a giant jug of PEG. I’ve met medical folks that have no idea what PEG is, and others that are like “OMG that’s in everything!”. Some systems have medical folks enter in your allergies, and if they type in PEG it changes to Miralax and then that’s all the doctors or pharmacies see – they don’t understand that it’s an inactive ingredient too! I’ve learned to look up any medication I’m prescribed (while I’m with the doctor) to find the inactive ingredients (usually Google “<medication name> inactive ingredients” and you’ll find it). If the doctor is not being helpful or supportive (I’ve been there), I work with the pharmacist. It can be in the name brand, but not the generic, or vice versa. Check all of the medications you’re on now, please. Again, this sucks.
Health and Beauty
So you thought that was all? LOL sadly no 🙁 PEG is also in haircare products, lotions, deodorant/antiperspirant, toothpaste, body and face wash products, makeup, nail polish remover, face masks, bubble baths, shaving creams, perfume/cologne, “personal lubricants”, wipes, Biore strips, etc. Yes, you have to read all of those labels too. I get hives from PEG, but sometimes the amount in the product is small enough that you don’t notice right away. But it builds up and your body is not happy. Other times, it’s an instant unhappy reaction – I have permanent scarring on my legs and feet from an allergic reaction after a pedicure (because I didn’t ask about the lotion etc used). Don’t be like me!
Also note, not all health and beauty items are required to disclose ingredients – this can lead to some trial and error, or just switching to brands you know you can trust.
Other Stuff (Including Food)
PEG is in hand and dish soaps, and laundry soaps. Some of those don’t need to list ingredients, so you may need to do some investigation or even switch brands. PEG is in some vape liquids (so that vapor alone, even if you’re not the one using it, could cause issues for you). It’s apparently in paintball paint, too. I’ve seen it in chewing gum. And it’s approved for use by the FDA in foods – it appears mostly in processing and animal feed, but in some directly consumed food. I haven’t seen it very much in food (I have to read every label anyway, because I have Celiac and other food intolerances and allergies), but I’ve seen propylene glycol, which isn’t the same I guess (I haven’t had issues with that, myself).
Welcome and I’m Sorry
So, after reading all of that you’re probably not super happy with your newly found allergy. It does suck, a lot, but I know you can make it through! Yes, shopping takes much longer, but it’s worth it to be healthier. Please be safe and read those labels!
I’m Hilary Weaver-Robb, also known as g33klady on the Internets. I’m a Senior Quality Engineer working remotely near Detroit, I tweet a lot (@g33klady), and swear a lot, too.