Ingredient Intel – Phenoxyethanol

Move over parabens, there’s a new controversial preservative in town!  It’s phenoxyethanol!

So what exactly is phenoxyethanol?  Phenoxyethanol is a synthetic preservative in personal care and cosmetic products as well as fragrances. 

How is phenoxyethanol synthetically created?  Well according to Wellness Today, phenoxyethanol  is “manufactured using a complex process where phenol is treated with ethylene oxide. Phenol is a mildly acidic white crystalline solid that can be obtained from natural or chemical sources. Ethylene oxide, also known as carbolic acid, is a colorless gas or liquid that is considered carcinogenic.”

Does phenoxyethanol go by other names?  Oh yes it does!  Here’s the other two similar ways phenoxyethanol can be written: 2-hydroxyethyl phenyl ether and 2-phenoxy-ethanol.

What are the concerns of phenoxyethanol?  Phenoxyethanol exposure has been linked to various degrees of reactions ranging from skin irritations to severe life-threatening allergic reactions.  These skin irritations include rash, eczema, hives.  It was scientifically proven that phenoxyethanol, in addition to the skin, is an irritant to the eyes.  But it doesn’t stop there; because its composition includes ethylene glycol phenyl esters, it is also toxic to the kidneys, nervous system, and reproductive system.

What’s the controversy of phenoxyethanol?  Despite the above concerns, phenoxyethanol is said to be a safe preservative to use in personal care and cosmetic products at concentrations below 1%, according to Sage Journals International Journal of Toxicology.

Tell me more!  Here at Blush With Green, we have gathered pertinent references we have researched regarding the concerns and safety of phenoxyethanol.

  • On the EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database, phenoxyethanol receives a score of 4 out of 10. Thus according to EWG, the overall health hazard concern for phenoxyethanol is just shy of moderate with varying degrees of high and moderate concerns.  High concerns include skin irritation, eye irritation, lung irritation, and occupational hazards.  Moderate concerns include non-reproductive organ system toxicity.  For the full article, check out EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database – Phenoxyethanol.
  • In 2007, cosmetic preservatives were tested, and it was proven that phenoxyethanol is an irritant to human skin and eyes. Comparison of objective and sensory skin irritations of several cosmetic preservatives. Lee E, An S, Choi D, Moon S, Chang I. Contact Dermatitis. 2007 Mar;56(3):131-6.
  • Material Safety Data Sheet from the Santa Cruz Biotechnology, Inc., which states that 2-Phenoxyethanol is “considered a hazardous substance according to OSHA 29 CFR 1910.1200.”
  • The 9 Final Report on the Safety Assessment of Phenoxyethanol from Sage Journals International Journal of Toxicology’s Research Article “concluded that Phenoxyethanol is safe as a cosmetic ingredient in the present practices of use and concentration.”


*Please use your best judge on your use of phenoxyethanol.  You can rest assure that products on Blush With Green are phenoxyethanol-free.