Phenoxyethanol: Another Dirty Word in Cosmetics

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You can’t help yourself.

First it started happening at the drugstore, now you’re doing it at parties: picking up beauty products like you have a PhD in chemical engineering to bust a loved one for paraben abuse. Well, if you weren’t already annoying, we got another one for yah, Ms. SAT, and it’s multisyllabic: phenoxyethanol.

Say it with me: phe-nox-ye-than-ol

Read more before you start overhauling your medicine cabinet for the eighth time.

Define It

Phenoxyethanol is the preservative that seems to have taken the place of your frenemy paraben. Technically, phenoxyethanol is an aromatic ether alcohol. This ingredient starts out as phenol, a toxic white crystalline powder that’s created from benzene (a known carcinogen) and then is treated with ethylene oxide (also a known carcinogen) and an alkalai. Sounds dreamy.

Phenoxyethanol Nicknames

  • Dowanol
  • Arosol
  • Emery 6705
  • Phenoxetol
  • Rose ether
  • Phenoxyethyl alcohol
  • Glycol monophenyl ether
  • Beta-hydroxyethyl phenyl ether

Where It’s Used

Phenoxyethanol is used in many all-natural beauty products touted as being “derived from grapefruits” and has started replacing mercury/thimerosal in almost all vaccines. It’s naturally occurring in green tea, but in cosmetics, it comes from a lab.

Why We Need It

As soon as water is used in a product such as foundation or a mascara, a preservative is needed to kill bacteria. Enter phenoxyethanol, a usual hidden fragrance ingredient and preservative. On the plus side, it’s (usually) non-irritating and formaldehyde-free. Experts and chemists alike claim it’s necessary to have these ingredients in our cosmetics to kill bacteria or else nothing could stay on the shelf. Others say it’s another bad ingredient that you should run from. Why?

Banned in Japan

Hmmm, do they know something we don’t? Japan has restricted phenoxyethanol as an ingredient in all cosmetics. Most countries ban its use to only a 1-percent concentration.

Bodily Harm

Several studies have shown that the toxicity of phenoxyethanol can cause damaging effects to the brain and nervous system, even at moderate concentrations. Again, while it’s thought to be from natural sources, some folks in the beauty biz buy the cheap, synthetic shit from China. All the danger signs refer to concentrated phenoxyethanol when swallowed, inhaled or absorbed through the skin.

Lower the Better

Conventional chemists insist that phenoxyethanol is safe at lower doses (which is what most of our products have) and it’s typically .5 to 1 percent in our products. But hey, what’s a little .5 here, .5 there, .5 everywhere? It’s up to you.

Fore more info about phenoxyethanol, check out the Environmental Working Group’s rap sheet here, and then make up your own pretty little mind.

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11 Responses to “Phenoxyethanol: Another Dirty Word in Cosmetics”

  1. August 1, 2013 at 12:33 pm #

    What are your favorite eco-friendly beauty products that are 100% all-natural and safe?

  2. August 1, 2013 at 8:20 pm #

    Three that I know are amazing are: !. Jane Iredale (you’ll find it in specialty beauty shops), Korres(Greek brand you can find in Sephora) and Tart (also sephora). Theres also DIY vegan make up stuff on youtube. I like to mix coconut oil w/ a bit of crushed raw cranberry… it’s old style but it works. Drinking young coconut water is a huge part of my beauty regimine..I drink it before going out, it makes my skin glow.
    Can anyone tell me about a good vegan sunscreen that is affordable?
    And has anyone tried maca root for increased labido with success?
    Thank you :)
    HUGS ><

  3. August 3, 2013 at 4:59 pm #

    I am not surprised at this new toxic threat alert. At this point, I have tossed most commercial skin care and cosmetic products. I am learning to concoct my own simple, natural beauty and skin care products. Just call me DIY Diva.

  4. October 20, 2013 at 9:50 am #

    I love your sarcasm it cracks me up and puts things in perspective. What’s a little .5 here and there lol. But thanks for the info it’s really helpful

  5. December 23, 2013 at 6:25 am #

    I have been getting an awful skin rash around my eyes for the last 6 months. After reseraching ingredients, going cold turkey off make -up, having some success with it clearing up, then having it come back worse than ever, I have found out that the cause of the rash was phenoxyethanol. Surprisingly it is in all my products ( concealer, tinted moisturizer, mascara, eye shadow ) and how I missed this is beyond me, as I have spent coutless hours on the internet researching all the ingredients in all my products and trying to find a co-relation. Scarey what we are putting on our skin, and in turn our bodies, in the name of beauty.

  6. January 22, 2014 at 7:29 am #

    I think this is unavoidable in the world of chemical cosmetic products. Now the bad one is phenoxyethanol, next one will be something else scientists will put in. It is because of the marketing and short term effect with huuuge improvement of your skin fast. Everything is only about money. If we wouldn’t be buying it, they wouldn’t be producing those things.

  7. February 12, 2014 at 12:00 pm #

    I would trust asian researchers and when they banned that chemical, there has to be reason for that!

  8. February 19, 2014 at 2:53 pm #

    Thank you so much for your informative post. I am looking to change skin care brands for economical and health reasons. One brand I was looking at contains Phenyoxyethanol, I won’t be buying it thanks to your blog.

  9. February 21, 2014 at 4:36 am #

    Everyone has different skin.

    Personally I am intolerant of Benzoic Acid (mmm, lovely sounding name).

    Oh and Phenoxyethanol isn’t banned in Japan. What are you talking about?

  10. February 21, 2014 at 4:55 am #

    @ Onyx, and anyone who cares to listen, everyone has different reactions to preservatives. None of them are friends of life.

    Banning some and not others is the wrong idea IMO. You need to find your own choice.

    For me a “natural” product flaunting how it has no Parabens, no MI, and yet it contains Benzoic Acid, is an absolute joke.

    They are all preservatives! A natural product would say “no preservatives”. The only one that doesn’t occur in nature is MI.

    If a product doesn’t contain phenoxyethanol (that occurs in green tea by the way), it will contain something else.

  11. March 30, 2014 at 9:49 am #

    Just discovered that it’s in Trader Joes’s Nourish Spa Shampoo and Conditioner. Oh no! Now to determine the amount they use…a sad day

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