Ingredient of the Month: Phenoxyethanol

Hey <<First Name>>! Welcome to the second newsletter of Ingredient of the Month! I’m so glad to see how many people are interested and every time I sit down to write this newsletter I have a dorky little smile on my face :) 

This month’s ingredient is phenoxyethanol. Many people are completely indifferent to the chemical, while I’ve read plenty of Green Beauty Bloggers who believe that it is a non-negotiable ingredient in their makeup products… so today we’re going to find out what phenoxyethanol is, why chemists use it and potential side effects from use. Grab a hot cuppa and settle in!

Natural Unpurified Talc
Fun Fact!  Phenoxyethanol is naturally present in green tea!
What is Phenoxyethanol?
Phenoxyethanol is a clear, slightly aromatic chemical that is added to makeup, personal care products and perfumes for its capability as a preservative. It is essentially used to keep bacteria at bay and allow your products to have a much longer shelf life. The European Union has regulated that the maximum concentration for phenoxyethanol in cosmetics must be 1% or lower.

Phenoxyethanol has been approved for use in eye makeup, fragrances, powders, lipstick, foundations, bath soaps and detergents as well as in skincare products.
Where does it come from?
There’s a very long-winded and technical explanation about how Phenoxyethanol is made but to cut it short, scientists take phenol and ethylene oxide, put a bunch of pressure on them and form them together. If there are any impurities the phenoxyethanol will smell bad or have a weird colouring to it.

If scientists detect that it has impurities it will not be used for cosmetics or perfumes. The cosmetic-grade phenoxyethanol will continue to be heated to the point where 4-8% of the solution is diethoxylated product that does not have any anti-bacterial properties and only serves as a dilution. Scientists don’t want to bring phenoxyethanol any farther from that point otherwise the solution will be useless as a preservative.
Fun Fact! Phenoxyethanol is used as an anesthetic for fish.

Here's the long part...

Phenoxyethanol has been linked to skin irritation and allergies especially when combined with parabens in personal care products. Scientists advise that infants should not be exposed to phenoxyethanol. From their studies on rabbits, rats and other animals scientists were not able to find any mutagenic tendencies from phenoxyethanol nor is it believed to be carcinogenic.

The only study I was able to find was about a 24 year old Asian woman who suffered from skin irritation and rashes after eating a Papaya Salad. I know, this sounds crazy… Four days after the first episode of skin rashes she developed another one from the Body Lotion that she had applied just after taking a shower. It was an unfortunate coincidence that she developed an allergy to phenoxyethanol even though she had never had any allergies before.

Therefore, there isn’t too much evidence showing that phenoxyethanol is really bad for use in cosmetics unless you happen to get an allergic reaction from it. However, phenoxyethanol is commonly found in wastewater samples collected from around the world. Therefore it is likely to be an environmental toxin, particularly for aquatic organisms. Remember the fun fact about how scientists use phenoxyethanol as an anesthetic for fish? Can you imagine if enough phenoxyethanol somehow managed to get into an aquatic ecosystem and put all the fish to sleep? (Obviously that's a far stretch...but still.)

Talc-Free Beauty Products

What can you do?

The only concern I have with phenoxyethanol is the waste water contamination that comes with it. All in all it is a relatively safe chemical with very little to be afraid about. If you’re concerned about marine organisms perhaps consider looking for shower gels and shampoos which do not contain phenoxyethanol as a preservative.

Swap it out!

Change up your usual Shampoo with the Carina Organics Shampoo, your toothpaste which is loaded with SLS + SLES and preservatives with the Green Beaver Natural Toothpaste or your dish soap with the Sapadilla Dish Detergents. All of these are phenoxyethanol-free and I personally love!
*no, these are not affiliate links! 


Bohn, S. and Bircher, A. J. (2001), Phenoxyethanol-induced urticaria. Allergy, 56: 922–923. doi:10.1034/j.1398-9995.2001.00218.x

[(1) Bursey JT, Pellizzari ED; Analysis of Wastewater for Organic Pollutants in Consent Degree Survey. Contract No. 68-03-2867. Athens, GA: USEPA Environ Res Lab p. 97 (1982) (2) Gulyas H, Reich M; J Environ Sci Health A35: 435-464 (2000) (3) Rogers IH et al; Water Pollut Res J can 21: 187-204 (1986)]

Campaign for Safe Cosmetics: Phenoxyethanol. Accessed Jan 30, 2017. 

TOXNET. (2017). Retrieved 30 January 2017, from

9: Final Report on the Safety Assessment of Phenoxyethanol. (1990). International Journal Of Toxicology, 9(2), 259-277.

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