Phenoxyethanol in Skincare: Is it Safe?

Is Phenoxyethanol in Cosmetics Safe?

First things first: what is phenoxyethanol, where does it come from and what does it do?

Phenoxyethanol is a preservative used in many cosmetics and skincare products. Chemically, phenoxyethanol is known as a glycol ether, or simply said: a solvent. describes phenoxyethanol as “an oily, slightly sticky liquid with a faint rose-like scent.” Most likely you come in contact with phenoxyethanol many times a day. But is it safe?

Is Phenoxyethanol safe?

According to Healthline:

The FDA currently allows the use of this ingredient in cosmetics, and as an indirect food additive. An expert panel from The Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) first reviewed all available data on this chemical in 1990. They deemed it safe when applied topically in concentrations of 1 percent or lower.

In 2007, the panel reviewed newly available data, then confirmed their former decision that it’s safe for adults to use topically in very low concentrations.The European Commission on Health and Food Safety also gives this chemical a “safe” rating when used in cosmetics at a 1-percent or less concentration. However, this report notes that using several products all containing a low dose could result in overexposure. Japan also restricts use in cosmetics to a 1-percent concentration.

Where does one can find Phenoxyethanol?

You can find phenoxyethanol as an ingredient in a wide variety of cosmetics and hygiene products, including:

  • perfume
  • foundation
  • blush
  • lipstick
  • soaps
  • hand sanitizer
  • ultrasound gel, and more

Why is it added to skincare and cosmetics?

According to Healthline, phenoxyethanol works as a stabilizer. It is also used as an antibacterial and/or a preservative to prevent products from spoiling. When combined with another chemical, some evidence even indicates that it’s effective at reducing acne. One 2008 study on 30 human subjects with inflammatory acne showed that after six weeks of twice-daily applications, more than half of the subjects saw a 50 percent improvement in their number of pimples. Manufacturers who want to avoid using parabens, which have recently lost favor among health-conscious consumers, might use phenoxyethanol in their products as a substitute.

So Is it dangerous in SOME cases?

Yes, it is, but only in a few cases:

In infants

Phenoxyethanol is thought to cause central nervous system damage in exposed infants. However, there’s no known significant risk to the mother, or other healthy adults without allergies.

In adults

Phenoxyethanol is known to cause allergic-type reactions on the skin in some people. Several studies have shown both humans and animals can experience:

  • skin irritation
  • rashes
  • eczema
  • hives

In one study on a human subject, this chemical caused hives and anaphylaxis (a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction) in a patient who used topical skin products with the ingredient. Though, anaphylaxis from this chemical is very rare. In another case report, ultrasound gel that contained this chemical caused contact dermatitis in a human subject.

So why did many companies have replaced parabens with phenoxyethanol?

According to Honest (Jessica’s Alba company):

What it is: Phenoxyethanol can be found naturally in green tea, but the commercial ingredient is synthetically produced in a laboratory creating what’s termed a “nature identical” chemical. Specifically, it’s created by treating phenol with ethylene oxide in an alkaline medium which all reacts to form a pH-balanced ingredient.

EpiLynx’s Verdict:

Yes, we deem it to be safe for people with sensitive skin, autoimmune diseases and allergies however it should always be in the concentration as advised and described above: less than 1%. And not to be used on infants.

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