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
- 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)
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.