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Ingredient Intel: Phenoxyethanol

In our first ingredient intel blog, we covered Fragrance. Next up: Phenoxyethanol. We have always felt strongly about not using products that contain Phenoxyethanol, however, the ultimate goal with this blog series, is to give you information on a specific ingredient and let you choose how you feel about it. OR even better, inspire you to do additional research to come up with your own ingredient standards.

So what is Phenoxyethanol?

It is a preservative or stabilizer widely used in cosmetics and personal care products. It is used to prevent a product from spoiling or becoming less effective too quickly. While it can be found naturally in green tea, Phenoxyethanol in cosmetics is synthetically produced in a lab.

Initially, it was believed to be a safer alternative to other paraben filled preservatives out there, which is why you will still see it in a ton of “green”, “clean” or “non-toxic”  beauty and skincare brands. Preservatives are necessary in products that contain some sort of water component in order to keep it fresh, effective and free of bacterial growth. However, this preservative poses some risks.

Phenoxyethanol has been linked to increasing the risk of eczema. In different studies, one where Phenoxyethanol was in an aftershave (Source) and another where it was used in an ultrasound gel (Source), it was determined that Phenoxyethanol caused contact Dermatitis. Another study has shown that Phenoxyethanol poses risk of being a neurotoxin (Source).

In 2008, Phenoxyethanol really came into the spotlight when it was used in a nipple cream by the brand Mommy Bliss. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) warned that the product was unsafe for breastfeeding infants since it could “ depress the central nervous system and may cause vomiting and diarrhea, which can lead to dehydration in infants.” (Source). Yikes! So after all of these findings, all products containing Phenoxyethanol were pulled from store shelves and never sold again…. Just kidding! Just making sure you’re still paying attention. Phenoxyethanol is still present in tons of products (if you don’t believe us, go to a local store or peruse online to see for yourself).

So at this point you might be asking why is Phenoxyethanol still used in products? Especially why is it used in green/clean/non-toxic products?

Despite the risks, it is still deemed safe by the FDA. In 2007, a panel from The Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) deemed it safe at concentrations of 1% or lower. Similarly, The European Commission On Health and Food Safety also concluded it was safe in cosmetics at 1% less concentration.  

Okay, so they recommend only using 1% or less of it in a products. But the FDA is not testing a product before it goes to market to ensure that it only contains < 1%. I look at ingredient labels all the time where Phenoxyethanol is in the middle or upper half of the ingredient list. Since Ingredient lists are written in descending order based on their proportion in the formula, it’s safe assumption that those products are using > 1%.

Let’s put that aside for one minute and pretend that all companies are staying in line with the recommended guideline and only use 1% or less of Phenoxyethanol in their formula. Because of its prevalence in so many products, it's realistic to assume that someone is using multiple products that contain this ingredient. If your products (shampoo, body wash, lotion, face cream, etc.) all have it in the formula (even at 1% each), you are exposing your body to a higher amount of the ingredient. Even at the lower, recommended usage, there is nothing preventing someone from exposing their body to multiple products that contain Phenoxyethanol on a daily basis. Each product ads up and can impact your body.

To us, even at 1%, the risks are too high. While preservatives are necessary in products, there are safe options out there, so in our opinion, there is no reason for us to carry products that use Phenoxyethanol. With the lack of regulation and with new research coming out all the time, the industry is constantly evolving.  We hope to see more companies question this ingredient and utilize alternatives. What is your stance on this ingredient? We’d love to know so comment below or send us an email at

*The information we provide is intended to motivate our customers to make their own decisions regarding the products they use. We are not scientists, chemists or healthcare professionals. Any statements or claims about benefits of ingredients have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and are not intended to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any disease or condition. As health and ingredient research continuously evolves, we do not guarantee the accuracy, completeness or timeliness of any information presented on this website.


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