IOTW: Phenoxyethanol


Welcome to the first of our Ingredient of the Week feature. I hope that this weekly blurb will help both you and me better recognize the harmful chemicals and remember their specific concerns. As I am also in a learning process, this type of study is helpful for me to better guide myself, in order to share with you the information I’ve found. Using other web sources which I’ll cite at the bottom, I’ll create a short summary of the chemical’s usage, risks and

Welcome to the first of our Ingredient of the Week featured series. The goal is for us to explore, understand and investigate the harmful chemicals we seek to avoid, and to comprehend fully the benefits of the ingredient in the products JFB features. The posts shall follow a consistent structure, seen below.

Here’s the low-down:


WHAT: Phenoxyethanol is a synthetic preservative that’s manufactured using a complex process where phenol is treated with ethylene oxide. Phenol is a mildly acidic white crystalline solid that can be obtained from natural or chemical sources. Ethylene oxide, also known as carbolic acid, is a colorless gas or liquid that is considered carcinogenic. Combined during manufacture, the two chemicals are claimed by some to form a safe, non-toxic synthetic preservative. 7


USE: Phenoxyethanol is used as a preservative in cosmetic products and also as a stabilizer in perfumes and soaps.1 Often used as an alternative for endocrine-disrupting parabens. 6


FOUND IN: Moisturizer, eye shadow, foundation, sunscreen, conditioner, mascara, eye liner, shampoo, lip gloss, concealer, body wash, hand cream, blush, hair color, hair spray, lip balm, lotion, nail polish, baby wipes, baby lotions and soaps, soap (liquid and bar), shaving cream, deodorant, toothpaste, fragrance, hair removal waxes, hand sanitizer and ultrasound gel. 2

LABELLING: Phenoxyethanol, 2-Phenoxyethanol, Euxyl K® 400 (mixture of Phenoxyethanol and 1,2-dibromo-2,4-dicyanobutane),  2-hydroxyethyl phenyl ether and 2-phenoxy-ethanol, rose ether, fragrance, Phenoxytol, Phenoxethol, Phenyle cellosolve, and Ethylene glycol monophenyl ether.



  • Exposure to phenoxyethanol has been linked to reactions ranging from eczema to severe, life-threatening allergic reactions. Infant oral exposure to phenoxyethanol can acutely affect nervous system function. 3
  • “The Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) on phenoxyethanol states that it can cause skin and lung irritation. It’s also toxic to the kidneys, nervous system, and liver, and repeated, long-term exposure can cause organ damage. It notes that toxic effects can occur through inhalation, skin exposure, and ingestion. The toxicity effects listed in the MSDS are based on exposure to the preservative when it’s undiluted, and scientists agree that in high doses phenoxyethanol is toxic”. 8
  • “…The European Commission on cosmetic ingredients stipulates that phenoxyethanol is toxic when applied to the lips or around the mouth, which is concerning. In addition, the FDA placed a warning to nursing mothers about using a brand of nipple cream that contained phenoxyethanol, stating that it could cause vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, and central nervous system problems in infants.”11
  • “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%” 12



  • “phenoxyethanol is very safe at low levels. It’s been tested on the skin and eyes and it is non-irritating and non-sensitizing at levels of 2.2% or lower while being effective at only 1% concentrations.” However, accumulation of small amount of phenoxyethanol may reach the point of harm. 10
  • “The safety of phenoxyethanol has been assessed by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel several times. This group evaluated the foundational scientific data plus the newer relevant data, and concluded that phenoxyethanol is safe as a cosmetic ingredient. Interestingly, although the phenoxyethanol used in skincare products is almost always synthetic, this chemical occurs naturally in green tea. In short, phenoxyethanol is considered a safe and effective preservative when used in amounts approved for use in leave-on or rinse-off cosmetics products.” 5


It seems reasonable to be concerned. At this time, Junk Free Beauty will not purchase or sell any products containing phenoxyethanol.




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