How to Find Glycol-Free Alternatives


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When you first discover you have an allergy to something that is an “invisible” ingredient in so many things, the first reaction is to look for a list of “safe” products you can use. There are plenty of blogs and sites that will give lists of products they think are free of glycols, and there are many doctors and practitioners who may also give you lists of “safe” products.

What happens when you use those “safe” products and end up with dermatitis, hives, or worse? Most people assume they’re allergic to something else in the product, but it could easily be the same old allergy due to hidden glycols with a different name, or a simple change in formulation. Because glycols are considered inactive ingredients in most products and are in the classification “GRAS” (or Generally Recognized as Safe), manufacturers can change the ingredients in any product at any time. That list you have just became out of date and no one’s going to tell you because glycols are not considered an allergen. For prescription medications this is particularly difficult because you don’t get the ingredients on the bottle.

So what do you do? How can you be sure?

Find your own answers. Don’t rely on a list someone else made that may not be up to date.

How? The process below is detailed, but once you get the hang of it, not that hard to do. This is what I have done to remain hive-free for several years (including major surgery).

  1. Find a sympathetic doctor. Having someone who can advocate for you is essential. A good doc can help with insurance companies when they require you to use a particular drug with glycols as an ingredient.
  2. When you need a prescription, ask your doc to give you two or three alternatives to research. So if you need muscle relaxants, your doc might tell you to look up Flexeril (cyclobenzaprine), Skelaxin (metaxalone),  or Zanaflex (tizanidine).
  3. Look up both the generic and the brand name of each alternative and have them handy.
  4. Call your local pharmacies and find out which manufacturer they carry for each drug. For example, call Costco pharmacy, tell them you have an allergy to a common ingredient in prescription meds and ask them what manufacturer makes their [“cyclobenzaprine, generic Flexeril”]. Ask them for the “NDC Number” for that drug. Having this number can save you a lot of time! Example: For Amneal cyclobenzaprine, the NDC numbers are  65162-541-10, 65162-541-50 and 65162-541-11. The first two parts of the number (65162-541) are important. The last two just refer to the package size.
  5. Ask the pharmacy who else in the area carries that same drug made by a different manufacturer. This will help you compile your list of options. In our town, Bi-Mart, Fred Meyer, Costco & Target all use the same distributor, but Safeway and Walgreen’s use a different one. This will change over time, so check again every time you need to get a new drug.
  6. Make your call during a slow time. It’s OK to ask right up front when you call – “I have some rather detailed questions to ask about a couple medications. When is the best time to call – or your least busy time?” Mid-morning on a Wednesday is usually not so busy, but it’s best to ask when the slowest times are so you can have the full attention of the person on the phone. Never call on a Friday near the end of the month, a Monday morning, or in December if you can help it.
  7. Find the ingredients list. There are several options now that you have the info you need.
    1. Get the product insert from the pharmacist. This is the best option but most pharmacies don’t keep the prescribing info package insert.
    2. Go to the manufacturer’s website and find the product info. This can take time, but it’s the second most reliable source of info.
    3. Go to and search for the NDC number, the generic name and the manufacturer name from one of your local pharmacies. Example: “65162-541” or “Amneal cyclobenzaprine” Make sure you are on the last page  (see illustration from, below). Check your spelling. Cant stress this enough!flexeril generic druginserts2
    4. Google the NDC number and the inactive ingredients list. “65162-541 inactive ingredients”
  8. If you can’t find an alternative that works, check another pharmacy that uses a different supplier.
  9. When you find something you can take, ask your doc to write the prescription for that drug.

Keep a spreadsheet or list of your findings. It also helps to have a list of medications (with their NDC number) you have taken that you know don’t react to. Look at their ingredients and make a list of the chemicals you CAN take so you can learn to easily scan an ingredients list.

What process do you use to stay safe? Join the discussion here: