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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)

Hi, thanks for your site. I found this chemical in:

L'OCCITANE MOM AND BABY WATER!

Incredible. I have been using this on my son.

Wed, March 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMarisol

I have just found out after 15 months of eye, face, lips and neck rash; allergist and dermatologist visits: patch testing prick testing, blood tests that were all normal, until recently I was tested with some of my own products, plus other specific products. I am allergic to "fragrance" and phenoxyethanol and cocamidopropyl betaine. I was allergic to my toothpaste, body wash and shampoo (baby product) make up, and hair gel! Very hard to find products without all of these ingredients, but I'm determined and they are out there!
My question: I've never been allergic to anything, but sulfa drugs. Found this out as a child, extreme allergy to sulfa. Would that make me more likely to be allergic, not that I'm 60, to some of these chemicals mentioned that have sulfates etc., in them??

Sun, March 30, 2014 | Unregistered Commentertenn vol fan

I have found this ingredient in a line of skincare that I used to sell. In the broken down descriptive it says "GRAS. Natural preservative found in green tea". ??????

Thu, April 3, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTara

Thank you for this information. I just had a massive reaction to Phenoxyethanol which was in a cream the Medical Doctors had given me to "calm" a rash I had head-to-toe. The other rash (allergic reaction to insect bite, and then to antihistamines (because they're based in Nightshades, to which I'm deathly allergic) had cleared 90 - 95%, and I was using the cream to "calm" the skin still irritated from the trauma - and I swelled so bad that it bruised the skin at my joints, had welts & weals, and itched & burned.
Your information has helped me to be alert so I don't inadvertently stumble upon it and react all over again.
Thank you so very much!
Kim

Thu, August 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGrailGoddess

I was very surprised to find that after doing some research on Xenoestrogens that even all the skin care and beauty products that I recently bought namely the REN brand who claimed they were Paraben and Sulphate free had Phenoxyethanol on its list of ingredients. Not sure what it was, I did some research and was surprised that these brands claiming to be natural and chemical free had Phenoxyethanol, I am glad I just found your website as I was getting very confused. Surely more action on its and other harmful chemical needs to be done by industry regulators!!!!!!

Monica

Sun, September 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMonica

Hi, just purchased ology no harmful chemicals peppermint pure castile soap from our local Walgreens and it has phenoxyethanol and ethylhexlglycerin. Half the price of Dr. Bonner's, but just wanted to post for health - conscious folks. A bit disappointed but I didn't have my reading glasses along. Caveat emptor. Still better than triclosan or SLS, according to my Ph.D. brother as far as overall chemical toxin loading. You just do the best you can in this world of toxins. If they're not in your soaps they're in your food or air or water or something else. Knowledge is power
Good health to all.

Thu, September 18, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterdave davis

Sigh, just found it in Milani lip intense liquid color? I love their makeup too. Sadness.

Tue, October 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterErica

I can't tolerate this chemical or anything that says ethanol in the products. My eyes get all 'wonky' such as eye migraines. Definitely best to stick with products as free and organic as possible to avoid reactions of any kind.

Fri, November 7, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermmztcass

Thank god we have you to inform us on chemicals that are allowed in our food and skin care products, vitamins etc. The question that I have is why doesn't the FDA be held accountable for allowing manufacturers to put their products on the market? So many recalls, yet how did they get approved by the FDA to begin with? Isn't it their job to investigate all safety material before clearing it for the public? All too often I hear of prescription drugs & numerous other foods & products causing serious illness or even death before they are pulled off the market. Shouldn't the FDA have researched the companies MSDS sheets and years of product testing sheets to begin with before they cleared it for sale to the public? While I realize they can't catch everything, and they can't always save us from ourselves, but isn't that their main function and sole purpose for their existence? I thought the FDA's main function was to protect us. Why pay the FDA billions a year to oversee these things, if they allow such products on the market, that later have to be recalled when thousands of people get sick or even die. Seems like most of these corporations, like the FDA were originally formed out of the goodness of the tax payers hearts, but years later as more of these positions were paid electives, some how it became big business and corruption, not to imply that the FDA is corrupt. Just saying that in my personal opinion a lot of things allowed depend on rapport and friendship and contributions! So, the general public, will probably never get the answers we are looking for because its to big business and we are not on that level. As for preservatives, I understand that there has to be some kind of shelf life in food or the manufacturers couldn't get their food produced, shipped and sold before it goes bad, but isn't there any kind of safer preservative to use then Phenoxyethanol ? I believe organic food to be produced, shipped and sold on time before it goes bad so can regular manufacturers do the same? Another thing I've noticed mostly within the last 20 years is the lack of animal testing before products are released to the public. Again, I understand the need for cruelty free testing and certainly I don't support abusive animal testing, but shouldn't we pick the lessor of two evils? hypothetically speaking of course. In my opinion If they are not testing on animals, then they are testing on humans and I would rather see animal testing then my child or myself. So again it's really about the lessor of two evils. Life isn't always fair but that's how it is. In my personal opinion a lot of the cancer that we see now days comes from the mass producing and genetically modifying food to feed the increased populations of people. The more people that come into the US the more food that needs to be produced. We now have way more people to feed and a lot less animal testing is being done on the food we are eating. The manufacturers are allowed to put whatever financially works in their products. It's big business. These manufacturers such as Monsanto for example, own the FDA (government) therefore they will do whatever they want to do and unless we as a community put up the millions of dollars that is needed to stop them, it's not going to happen. These companies are protecting their investment (pay checks) and they will do whatever it takes and pay out how ever many millions of dollars it takes to continue making the billions that they make. In a lot of ways I don't blame them. I have owned 3 restaurants over the last 11 years and I too want to protect my paycheck and investment. I would not want someone inventing a pill that makes people never eat out again. All in all I think we, the general public have to start researching as much as we can what goes into our food and our products before we buy them. Mandatory Honest ingredient Labeling needs to be the next big change!!! Anna Brocchini- Oregon

Mon, December 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAnna brocchini

How do you recommend that water-based cosmetic formulas are preserved then? Thanks! Andy

Wed, August 5, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterAndy

Just bought some Aloe. Vera gel from
Trader Joe's - which it contains and
Now throwing it out before I use it.

Wed, August 19, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

It's highly interesting (suspicious) that you are a maker of oil-based products that don't need a preservative to be safe for sale, but you deride perfectly acceptable preservatives used by other manufacturers who sell water-based products.Very effective marketing ploy, hats off to you because it certainly works based on the pages of "sheer terror" elicited from comments to this post.

If all of these preservatives are evil, how do you propose one effectively preserve an aquatic product so a customer doesn't end up with some type of dangerous bacterial infection?

Thanks

I'll be mildly surprised if this post even sees the light of day, and actually delighted if you respond with what you believe a "perfect" preservative for a water-based product should be.

Sat, April 9, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterBelinda

@Belinda

I can understand your skepticism. After all, there are so many companies out there that started out with millions and said, "Hey, how can we capitalize on this whole "organic" trend," and then employed various marketing tactics to turn their millions in to more millions.

I am a person who started a company in the basement out of my house, based on my own struggles with hormonal imbalances. I wanted to spread the word about the chemicals that were harming me and others--it was born out of a desire to help. I thought it might be something that I did on the weekends at farmer's markets--little did I know that a year later I'd be hiring employees and stocking products in Whole Foods. Spreading the word about xenoestrogens and other harmful chemicals was central to the little company that I started and the reason I began the company. Not the other way around.

I do stand behind my stance of selling anhydrous products that are self-preserving. I don't believe in watering down products and then loading them up with preservatives. People deserve better. That said, there are certain consumer expectations for particular products in how they function and feel. I know first-hand the demand for these items, as I have probably lost out on thousands of dollars by not catering to this demand. However, we are continuing to innovate and come out with products that are organic, safely preserved, and have more sophisticated formulas, including emulsions.

There is no "perfect" preservative, as one has to formulate synergistically with all ingredients and packaging factors to figure out which preservative is best for their particular formula. Organic options are being added to the marketplace continually. I'm not here to offer formulation advice or to tell you what's best for your company. Or to say that preservatives are bad. Preservation is a highly important factor in formulation and needs are different for each company and formula. Some companies may be distributed in retailers and need a 5 year shelf-life. Companies that are cutting out the middle man and marketing directly to people and offering small-batch, freshly-made products will have different needs. So, I can't tell you what's right for any one company. I can only tell you that what you might view as a "ploy" is really just my passion.

Wed, April 13, 2016 | Registered Commenter[Stephanie Greenwood]

Hi, interesting topic with lots of discussion. Of interest to me is how phenoxyethanol is made...from benzene! This I did not know and no_one has disputed it. This explains why, I, with an allergy to benzylanything can react to creams when there is no "b" ingredient listed but phenoxyethanol is. It is almost impossible to find a cream which benefits my sore skin (caused by being caught out). Thanks for this information :-).

Tue, July 12, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterTeeny

I have just found out that I'm allergic to phenoxyethanol. It only affects my lips! I have had these "dry feeling" lips for almost 6 months. I found out about a month ago that I was allergic, have eliminated phenoxyethanol completely, but have found no improvement in my lips. I switched to Physicians Formula organic makup and now have a rash around my mouth in additional to my lip allergy. I'm very frustrated and hope that someone can help. Not sure that my lip problem is just related to the allergy. I'm 51 years old and officially in menopause. Could my "raging hormones" or lack there of be causing my dry, chapped, inflamed lips? Any comment or help would be appreciated. Thank you!

Wed, March 8, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterShelly

This one definitely sounds like a mood killer. I still don't quite get how a lot of this works. But it definitely seems to be something to look out for, just for the itchiness since my gf can't really deal with it.

Fri, May 5, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJosh Seulgi

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