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Today's Chemical:


EWG Risk Score:


What is it:

Phenoxyethanol is an aromatic ether alcohol. What does this mean? 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.

What's its job as an ingredient:

Phenoxyethanol is commonly used in the ingredient listed as "fragrance" and also used as a preservative.

What Type of Products is it in:

Sunscreen, facial products, scrubs, moisturizers, body wash, mascara

Safety/Hazard Info:

  • This animal study found phenoxyethanol to be a reproductive toxin.  (Source)
  • This study found it to be the cause of contact dermatitis (skin allergen/irritant.)  (Source)
  • This review confirms phenoxyethanol as a reproductive toxin.  (Source)
  • This also confirms phenoxyethanol as an ovarian toxin not just for the original animal exposed to it, but shown to effect the development of its offspring.  (Source)
  • This study found it to be a significant contact allergen.  (Source)

Steph's Opinion:

Made out of carcinogenic and toxic compounds, phenoxyethanol is an ingredient that I would suggest avoiding. Oftentimes it's found in "natural" products. They'll use phenoxyethanol as the preservative and then tout that they're "paraben-free." In addition it's commonly used as a fragrance ingredient. Many of the natural companies still use synthetic fragrance. They'll tout that they're "phthalate-free" but still contain phenoxyethanol. So, just because something's "phlalate-free" or "paraben-free" doesn't mean it's safe. Any time you see "fragrance" listed, phenoxyethanol could be present, along with any number of harmful synthetic chemicals. Phenoxyethanol is structurally similar to parabens on a chemical level, so its toxicity to the reproductive system is not surprising.  

Also note: some companies may claim that their phenoxyethanol is extracted from natural sources.  So, while this is better because it lessens the risk for ethylene oxide contamination, it is still the same chemical structurally, and would pose the same risks. 

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Reader Comments (76)

Another company that uses phenoxyethanol is TruKid. Thanks for making this the chemical of the day. Your the best Steph! : )


Fri, June 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAndi

Nature's Gate Liquid Hand Soap

Fri, June 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMaureen

I just found it in some of my Origins products...Clear Improvement Clay Mask and Grapefruit Body Souffle...makes me wonder what else? Phooey! Thanx for the info Steph!

Sat, June 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJody

Desert Essence uses this in their entire organic line.

Sun, June 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLiz

Derma E products have this ingredient in some of its products as well

Sun, June 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJess

Is this stuff in the Physician's Formula organic line... or just their regular cosmetics?

Mon, June 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLisa

Found it in Avalon Organics Baby products, as well as some Arbonne products.

Thu, June 25, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle

Lisa--it looks like it's just their regular line, not the Organic Wear.

Fri, August 14, 2009 | Registered Commenter[Stephanie Greenwood]

Phenoxyethanol is also in vaccines. Injecting known carcinogens into children. Great.

Wed, August 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRobyn

Once again, another person who doesn't understand a thing about chemistry scaring the public. Phenoxyethanol is NOT a known carcinogen, regardless of what its precursors are. (And your response, Stephanie, on Utah Stories just made you look all the more ignorant, since you don't even know that hydrochloric acid is NOT a poisonous gas, and is not what Dr. Eastman was referring to...that would be chlorine.) People who do not understand how chemistry works or do their own research (on more than just EWG websites) should not listen to people who just stick their names on products that they have developed and made by contract manufacturers. Really, we should all go back to parabens, since we chemists KNOW there's nothing wrong with them, despite what the scaremongers (who get all their information from "informative" websites like this one) may want you to think. Absolutely infuriating.

Thu, November 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterViolet

Hi Violet! Thanks for commenting on my post.

A few points....

1. Regarding the Hydrochloric Acid as a gas: When the chemist said the substance that "spontaneously bursts into flame" I automatically thought he was talking about lye because my mind is so focused on the world of soap-making! (I see I missed the part about "when exposed to air." Lye only spontaneously combusts when introduced to water). I knew he was talking about chlorine gas as the poisonous gas, but adding chlorine gas to lye creates sodium hypochlorite, not table salt. So, the closest thing that fit was hydrochloric acid, so I gathered that's what Dr. Eastman was talking about (chlorine, the poisonous gas, in its ionic form). Upon a closer examination of his article, I see that he was simply talking about chlorine gas and pure sodium (the pure sodium was the spontaneously combusting material). Reacting pure chlorine gas and pure sodium is so rare in practical applications (because it's so explosive) that I didn't consider it as a possibility. In the real world it's much more common to combine these two elements when they're in their acid or alkalai state for safety reasons. We're still talking about sodium and chloride combining though--my model just has some ancillary hydrogen and oxygen molecules. And my point is still valid--even more so: the creation of phenoxyethanol is not as simple as the inorganic reaction between sodium and chlorine. But I'm glad that I have you chemists here to keep me on my toes with these technicalities. ;)

2. My post did not state that phenoxyethanol was classified as a known carcinogen.

3. My research extends well beyond that of EWG...perhaps you missed the links in my original article or did not fully read my rebuttal. In fact, I have an article on my blog all about doing your own research and not just relying on the EWG Cosmetics Database.

4. It seems you are insinuating that Bubble & Bee Organic uses a contract manufacturer. We proudly make our fabulous products by hand in our own USDA Certified Organic facility.

You're definitely entitled to your opinion. Everyone should make their own choices about his or her health. Just as people can choose to drink high fructose corn syrup and eat hydrogenated oils, they can use parabens, phenoxyethanol and other sketchy chemicals on their skin. Some people choose to use caution when it comes to their health and eat organic, whole foods, and use organic, whole ingredients on their skin. It's just a personal choice. For the people that do choose to go the organic route, I offer my expert opinion and research to help people decipher between what's natural and what's not. Our readers are generally well-educated and have the ability to complete the same research I provide. I simply save them some time and try to make it approachable. It's a confusing world of personal care products out there, and so many companies lie about the ingredients in their products. My readers also know that as more data is presented we are not above changing our opinions or even pointing out an error when we make one.

To my readers: It appears that "Violet" is a chemist and possibly in the industry (since she's familair with the concept of "contract manufacturing."). Perhaps she has a line of her own, or works for another cosmetics company. I frequently run in to this attitude from other industry people. Right now the cosmetics industry is under fire from a lot of sources, so these chemists and industry people are in defense mode. From the new crackdown on fake "organic" products, to the legislation being pushed by the Environmental Working Group, these companies are concerned because they're constantly being challenged about these issues. I'm not out to bring down any companies, but to simply inform people of the risks. It is harder to make money in this business when you adhere to the strict self-imposed organic standards that we do. Other companies are scared that they will be forced to operate under the same standards and won't be able to sell their watered-down products loaded with preservatives at an 80% profit margin any more.

Mon, November 16, 2009 | Registered Commenter[Stephanie Greenwood]

Another Product line this is in is FranBrand on HSN. I ordered the entire line, tried it at home--loved the results and then discovered this toxic stuff is in each and every product in the line. Needless to say I am more than disappointed!

Mon, November 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLou Ann

Sorry--I forgot to name the nasty toxin as phenoxyethanol! This is what is the last or close to last ingredient in all FranBrand products. I noticed that when I use this product line that my heart started racing and it became a bit of a strain to breath. That was the first time I have ever felt something like this after using a facial product. I think is must have been a type of allergic reaction.

Mon, November 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLou Ann

Drat! I just found it in a new shampoo that I love! Auromere's Ayurvedic Shampoo, SULFATE-FREE (!). It is hard to believe that the ayurvedic tradition really would accept all this.

Thanks for the info - it is so disappointing not to be able to trust anything these companies do anymore!

Tue, December 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLisaMV

Just came across your website when I was trying to get some information on phenoxyethanol, is it common to suffer an allergic reaction to this all of a sudden, even if it has been an ingredient in many cosmetics and shampoos used over a long period of time?

Tue, January 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMeire

Meire--it is possible. Sometimes the immune system can flare up and you can develop chemical sensitivities and other allergies.

If you're experiencing a skin problem that came on suddenly and you didn't make any changes to the products you were using, I'd schedule a visit with a doctor or naturopath. Sometimes sudden rashes, rosacea, hives and such can be symptomatic to a larger issue, like sudden hormone changes, thyroid issues, and larger immunological responses.

Wed, January 13, 2010 | Registered Commenter[Stephanie Greenwood]

Thank you Stephanie for getting back to me on this. I did try out a new product, my daughter has used it without any reaction. I wasn't so lucky - let's just say 16 days later I am still showing signs of this. I have been to the doc & dermatologist, got the creams, steriods etc. I am just trying to do my own bit of investigating on the matter and that's when I came across your site. Isn't it amazing that so much of what we use nowadays contain chemicals that we would never voluntarily rub onto our skin if we had them in their original format. My mishap has opened my eyes, all I have left to say on the matter now is.... labels labels labels!!!!

Thu, January 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMeire

I have been going back through some of your chemicals and this one stuck out at me. If the FDA is giving a warning on this
Why is it still allowed in products? I know this warning is in regard to Mother's Bliss nipple cream but they are stating it "can depress the central nervous system and
may cause vomiting and diarrhea, which can lead to dehydration in infants." I understand that it is about being consumed but isn't absorbing through the skin just as harmful? Who can we write to or contact? I have written to my congressmen and companies of products that I like and want to use!

Tue, February 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMareca

OMG, don't we just like to panic!!! Phenoxyethanol is one of the very few safest broad spectrum preservatives that is used at 0.5% concentration to protect YOU from the mold, that would grow in your product within 3 weeks of production. Particularly products containing water. And I am not counting shelf life here at all - from production it is. The mold and bacteria is much more harmful for our bodies then this minuscule amount of preservative. So here it goes, parabens are bad, phenoxyethanol is bad, then what is good? Mold? Some of you that's so paranoid perhaps should stick with use of Olive oil alone.

Tue, February 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNatalja

Thanks for your comments; I disagree, but respect your opinion.

What's wrong with using pure oils and butters? That is, in fact, what I recommend---using waterless products so you don't expose yourself to these chemicals OR mold and bacteria. And actually heal your skin, instead of watery lotions that evaporate and dry out your skin more. Oil-based butters and balms are not what the average consumer has become accustomed to using, so they're a harder sell (plus there's a lot more margin on a product that's 80% water) but I think they're the healthiest, best-for-your skin, way to go.

Wed, February 3, 2010 | Registered Commenter[Stephanie Greenwood]

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