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Monday
Feb282011

Phenoxyethanol

Today's Chemical:

Phenoxyethanol

EWG Risk Score:

4

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)

I hd TRUE test allergy testing and am allergic to this chemical, so I develop a rash. I just want to know if there are ANY mascaras that do not use this chemical. I can find other makeups but not mascara. thanks!

Sun, July 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMonica

Thank you Steph for your expertise and balls to stand up FOR US ... I am a cancer survivor and regressed it without chemicals ...yrs ago .. divine intervention and research .. with money issues yaddayadda I managed to challenge my immune system again recently and experienced candida .. cured it... nervous breakdown . cured (homeopathics) ...and now 2 cleanses later feel great.. during all this my facial skin swelled up and would get red and then white ... I absorbed tons of avocado oil as I became so dehydrated .. and that is when I realized the importance of organics on our body .. the largest organ.. skin ... my skin sucked up so much oil per day it had to go to every organ at some point! I sent your blog on phenoxyethanol to ANDALOU NATURALS .. now in all health food stores ... and they just replied that they only use .35 % to again keep the mold out ... I love what you say about water in face products.. I can't wait to try your face cream .. I am a pro paddler on the water often and need moisture .. thanks again for your wisdom .. we need you ..... ps to Meire ... go see a naturopath ! they will steer you in the right direction ... but then you already said that .. ;)

Thu, July 5, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermary ann

I just recently purchased EO (Essential Oils) "Soothing Shower Gel"-says no parabens, polysorbate-free, Disodium EDTA Free, Sodium Laureth/Lauryl Sulfate-free, etc. Then-OOPS! It contains phenoxyethanol!
They always advertise as Natural AND Organic. So much for Truth-in-Advertising!
Not going to buy their products ANYMORE.

Mon, July 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLA

im looking up the ingredients in my a Lush pot called "r&b" its like a leave in hair conditioner and it has it!! what a shame..

Wed, August 8, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermeee

Ive been buying Gaia skincare products for a few years now that i have just noticed contains this ingredient.. im really paranoid nw wtf can i put on my skin!! Are pure natural oils an option? I really thought this prodcut was good as it contains so much natural oils so much cheaper than buying them as a bunch.. hmm i guess iwill have to keep looking around for something else..

Thu, October 25, 2012 | Unregistered Commentertiamax

Many natural or organic products I have been looking at do have this ingredient. One line I've been using seems to be ok so far, Shea Moisture. I hope nobody comes up with something bad in these. I use the baby line on my daughter and it smells wonderful! Just wanted to share. It really is frustrating that so many products that claim to be free of bad chemicals really are not.

Mon, November 19, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterstacey

Regarding Shea Moisture...look for Japanese Honeysuckle Extract. This is not a natural extract but a synthetic preservative containing salicylic acid (according to information fromt he manufacturer).

Mon, November 26, 2012 | Registered Commenter[Stephanie Greenwood]

Hi. I came across your article after searching for alcohol-free products to buy (I'm Muslim and it's a requirement that I avoid all things that contain alcohol products and certain animal by-products). I noticed (on my facial cream) the words phenoxyethanol and thought I would try to find out what it was. Can you tell me with sound mind that this is alcohol (in it's original state, processing or final)? It would greatly be appreciated. There's so many ingredients in everyday products it gets so confusing.

Tue, January 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSadaqah

@sadaqah: thanks for your question. Even though it has "ethanol" in the name, phenoxyethanol is not the same chemical as ethanol. It is not "alcohol" in the common term of the meaning (ie, ethanol) and shouldn't conflict with your religious requirements.

Fri, January 4, 2013 | Registered Commenter[Stephanie Greenwood]

Hi, I just chanced upon your website as I was looking up 'Phenoxyethanol'. I bought this Lip Butter online that claimed that the product was 'Sulphate Free' and 'Paraben Free', touting it as a natural product. But imagine my utter disappointment, when I read about the ill effects of this chemical. Since its meant for use on the lips, I could be swallowing this, involuntarily as well and exposing myself to its ill effects. Thanks for this enlightening post. Please keep up the good work! Cheers.

Tue, January 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJailaxmi

Is there a better preservative that will prevent bacteria and mold from growing?

Thanks!

Wed, February 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRachel

As someone who has been properly diagnosed with a contact allergy to phenoxyethanol, I have to say that the prevalence of the preservative is extremely annoying and seems pretty unnecessary.

I think that the whole argument about whether or not it is a carcinogen is irrelevant. It is not a necessary preservative. I have used products that don't have phenoxyethanol (or any of the other notorious preservatives) and these products have served me well.

I also know of many products that used to not contain it - but now do. It seems less an issue of quality control and more an issue of growing demand or other economic factors. I say this because I've noticed that as some smaller, ingredient-conscious brands go more mainstream, they add the phenoxyethanol.

The allergic reaction is terrible. It's incredibly frustrating that it is a known common irritant in the cosmetics industry and yet exists in so many "hypo-allergenic" brands.

Wed, February 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterFiona

Also, to add to my last post, it is classified as an irritant to the skin, eyes, and lungs and is classified as toxic or harmful in products used around the mouth in the EU.

Never forget that the FDA is super fallible and that even science can be subjective.

Wed, February 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterFiona

Steph, this may come as a silly question but is the ingredient Parfum the same as Fragrance? I use Dr Organic facial creams. Some of the different ranges in this brand have Phenoxyethanol and some have Parfum listed in the ingredients. I know to stay clear of the ranges that have phenoxyethanol (such as the Dead sea minerals) but what about the ones with Parfum?
The ingredients are listed only on the Holland and Barrett website: www.hollandandbarrett.com
Thanks

Fri, April 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKim

@Kim--yes, "parfum" is the same as "fragrance."

Mon, April 15, 2013 | Registered Commenter[Stephanie Greenwood]

Well Darn! I just bought some DMAE-Alpah Lipoic C-Ester Creme, labled as "natural" and sold at many health food stores only to find phenoxyethonol and sure enough like your article says, I bought the creme because it was fee of parabens.

Thu, August 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommentercRItter

@Violet:

Guess what: it really is this simple: if I cannot grow it in my backyard, it is NOT going on my skin. People are waking-up, Violet, and sooner than not you and your chemical-pushing cohorts -will be out of jobs- Maybe then you will come to reason..?! One can hope. In the meantime, I am continuing to tell people left and right about companies that keep it REAL. :)

Sun, January 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMorgan

I'm no chemist, but this ingredient is the common ingredient in many skin care products that has caused irritation/reaction for me. I steer clear from it.

Fri, February 14, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterlena m.

I am estrogen dominant and had severe cramping. Had been using oils for lotions and doing good. My daughter had some issues with oils so I purchased Everyday Shea thinking since that was the only ingredient that was questionable, it would probably be ok. I used it a few times and that month the severe cramping started again. Stooped and the cramps stopped. Coincidence?

Wed, February 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRenee

Looking at skin care products tonight, for the first time I ran into "phenethyl alcohol" in an organic line that has been gaining popularity. Is there, by any chance, any difference between phenoxyethanol and phenethyl alchohol, or is it another way to list it that may not catch the eye of consumers on the lookout for phenoxyenthanol?
Thank you Stephanie!!

Sun, March 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea

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