What’s all the fuss about Phenoxyethanol ?
What is Phenyoxyethanol?
Pheynoxyethanol is a synthetically produced glycol ether preservative used in cosmetic products to prolong their life. It’s pretty commonly found in natural products, particularly the cheaper priced ones.
Is it bad for us?
Well, this is where it gets confusing!
The EWG Skin Deep Database puts its hazard rating as low-medium with a number 4. There is no cancer or development/reproductive toxicity concerns. There seems to be a small concern about allergies.
There was one study which suggests it’s not so great for products used around your lips (so ingestion is no good).
The Chemical Maze Handbook says 🙁
“Suspected reproductive and developmental toxicity; effects from exposure may cause headache, tremors, eye irritation and central nervous system depression; mild irritation on sensitive skin; absorbed by the skin, toxic to the kidneys, the nervous system and the liver; safe as used up to 5%”
The International Journal of Toxicity says in their report on the safety of phenoxyethanol “It is concluded that Phenoxyethanol is safe as a cosmetic ingredient in the present practices of use and concentration.”
The Material Safety Data Sheet on phenoxyethanol says;
It’s hazardous in case of eye contact, skin contact, ingestion and inhalation. “The substance is toxic to kidneys, the nervous system, liver. Repeated or prolonged exposure to the substance can produce target organs damage. Repeated or prolonged inhalation of vapors may lead to chronic respiratory irritation”
Keep in mind that the MSDS is for phenoxyethanol in its pure 100% form. In cosmetic products, the amount of phenoxyethanol might have 0.5% or 1% of the substance.
What’s the issue?
Initially it seemed this preservative was a great substitute for parabens and embraced by the natural cosmetic companies. Since new information and research has come to light, some cosmetic companies are reformulating their products to remove it and replace with something safer.
While phenoxyethanol may sound pretty bad, I think you have to look at it in context. 0.5 – 1% is a pretty small amount of it in your product. Cosmetics need preservatives to avoid bacteria growing in them and the addition of phenoxyethanol helps to keep natural products reasonably priced. As the Chemical Maze pointed out, it has been declared safe in amounts under 5%.
We quite probably encounter more toxic chemicals in our environment, in the air we breath and in a hundred places you would not think.
For those that are sensitive to products, have allergies or any sort of intolerance to products, it might be an issue for you and it’s probably best to steer clear.
For those that are on a budget and can’t afford the expensive natural products, you may want to settle for a bit of phenoxyethanol in your products. Perhaps limiting those products with phenoxyethanol to ones that are washed off rather than left on your skin is a compromise.
It’s pretty much a personal choice.
I know I can get a little paranoid about all the nasties, so sometimes its good to just take a step back and put it all into perspective.
How to avoid phenoxyethanol
Look for products that are certified organic. They should not contain phenoxyethanol.
Read labels. Phenoxyethanol can also be listed under fragrance, Phenoxytol, Phenoxethol, Rose ether, Phenyle cellosolve, and Ethylene glycol monophenyl ether.
Some brands that don’t contain phenoxyethanol:
Brands that do contain phenoxyethanol are usually at the cheaper end of the natural skincare ranges like Sukin and Australia Pure Beauty by Nature’s Organics.
You might also like to read:
Does phenoxyethanol bother you? Do you look for it on labels?