What’s Wrong With Phenoxyethanol?

Phenoxyethanol has recently become a very hot topic nowadays, as it is an ingredient that is commonly talked about, especially in the natural/organic skin care industry.


image via www.yogitrition.com

What Is It?

So, let’s lay down the details first. Phenoxyethanol is a common and popular preservative found in conventional and ‘natural/organic’ skin care products, especially now that good old paraben has taken the flak for being chemically dangerous.

This compound can naturally be found in green tea, but what most manufacturers use is a chemical that’s synthetically produced in laboratories, hence leading to be known as “nature identical.”

What Does It Do?

Phenoxyethanol is added to skin care products to fight bacteria, as most personal care products are made with a lot of water, making it a breeding ground for micro-organisms. Thus, preservatives are essential to ensure the safety of the products. Experts and chemist claim that it’s important to have preservatives like these, or else nothing can stay long enough on the shelf. But if this compound does some good, what is wrong with it and what’s so bad about it?

What’s The Problem?

Today, this preservative is very prolific among natural skin care products especially after the health scare surrounding parabens started. The compound, because of it being “nature identical” fit the bill as an alternative. Many of these products also parade themselves with labels that say: No synthetic ingredients, no parabens and the like.

The problem is that this ingredient is not natural and is neither safe for the skin at all.  Technically, synthetic phenoxyethanol is derived from phenol, which is a noxious white crystal-like powder that is produced from benzene (a chemical determined to be cancer-causing in humans). The ingredient is then treated with ethylene oxide, which is also another carcinogen as well.

Several studies show that phenoxyethanol is also just as toxic as other ingredients that we fear, and has been found to have damaging effects on the nervous systems and the brain.

The problem personally is that consumers go to great lengths to avoid synthetic chemicals and steer clear of parabens, only to unknowling run into the arms of a similar ingredient.

Today, many regulating bodies limit the use of phenoxyethanol to 1%, saying that it is safe in very little amounts. That said, most industry chemists believe that it is safe in lower doses, and most skin care products contain 0.5% to 1% only of the product. Japan, on the other hand, has taken the move and has restricted it in all cosmetics.

Before you start worrying, available research data is still inconclusive, as this applies to isolated exposure to phenoyxethanol or use of products containing very high doses of the ingredient. Some may argue – it’s generally safe when used in small doses, but what happens when you add 1% and 1% and 0.5%? Personally, I’d like to avoid it instead, and so should you.