Phenoxyethanol For Skin: Is It Safe?

Written by Arshiya Syeda

Preservatives are added to beauty and cosmetic products to prolong their life. Almost all skin care products contain preservatives – natural or artificial. One such preservative is phenoxyethanol. How safe is it for your skin? Does using skin care products containing phenoxyethanol cause any long-term skin damage? Here, we answer these queries and further discuss the effects of phenoxyethanol on skin care. Keep reading.

What Is Phenoxyethanol In Skin Care?

Phenoxyethanol is an aromatic ether and is a common preservative found in cosmetics, toiletries, perfumes, and other beauty products. It is said to be oily in texture, colorless, and has a rose-like odor. It is also naturally present in green tea and chicory. However, most of the phenoxyethanol used in the beauty industry is synthetically prepared. In fact, 23.9% of personal care products contain phenoxyethanol (1).

The use of phenoxyethanol has increased due to the growing trend and demand for paraben-free products. This preservative is used in place of parabens. That said, why even use preservatives in skin care products?

Why Are Preservatives Used In Skin Care Products?

The different parts of our body have different pH levels, including the skin. The pH of the skin should remain between 4 to 6.5. Maintaining an optimum pH is essential even when using skin care products. Having an alkaline pH can increase microbial growth and lead to infections. This also holds true for skin care products, which are maintained at a pH compatible to that of the skin to prevent any microbial growth.

Preservatives like phenoxyethanol are responsible for optimal pH levels and prevent microbial growth – both in skin care products and on the skin. Most skin care products contain water, and other vitamins and active ingredients – which form the ideal breeding ground for microbes. Phenoxyethanol can keep this microbes from breeding.

Such preservatives can also prevent contamination of the product. Your hands may contain microbes when you apply a skin care product, and without preservatives, these microbes may spoil the product.

Cosmetic and beauty skin care products are often stored in drawers, often in humid environments like bathrooms and toilets. The humidity in these places creates the perfect environment for microbial growth and can reduce the life of your skin care products. But the preservatives in your products can prevent this.

Initially, parabens were added to cosmetic products as preservatives. However, with increasing evidence about their toxic effects, manufacturers are now turning towards phenoxyethanol as a substitute for parabens.

In the following section, we have discussed the benefits of phenoxyethanol in skin care products.

Benefits Of Phenoxyethanol In Skin Care Products

1. Has Antimicrobial Properties

As discussed, skin care products are a great place for microbes to accumulate, due to their water, organic, and inorganic compounds (2). This is where phenoxyethanol helps. It is known to prevent the growth of different microbes like bacteria, yeast, and molds. It interrupts bacteria and yeast replication (3).

2. Keeps The Products From Breaking Down

Phenoxyethanol is compatible with other preservatives used in skin care products. It keeps their constituents from separating or breaking down.

3. Increases The Shelf Life Of Products

Phenoxyethanol, as a preservative, prolongs the shelf life of products. Its stabilizing and antimicrobial properties keep your products lasting longer.

4. Is Stable In Nature

Phenoxyethanol does not react with air, water, or other compounds. It is a stable preservative and maintains product quality too.

While there are no specific benefits of phenoxyethanol for skin, it does offer these advantages to skin care products. That said, it may have certain adverse effects on one’s skin. You may want to be wary about them before going for products containing phenoxyethanol.

Side Effects Of Phenoxyethanol On Skin

According to the European Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety, phenoxyethanol is safe for all children and adults up to a maximum concentration of 1% (4). In spite of its liberal use in cosmetic products, phenoxyethanol rarely causes allergic reactions. It is said to be one of the most-tolerated preservatives.

However, very high concentrations of phenoxyethanol (more than 200 times) can lead to adverse systemic reactions. These include:

  • Skin irritation
  • Eczema
  • Hives
  • Rashes

This well-tolerated preservative has been reported to cause allergic or adverse reactions in some individuals. This is common with people who are allergic to the substance itself. As per a report, phenoxyethanol caused contact dermatitis in an individual when used as part of an ultrasound gel (5).

Ingestion or inhalation of phenoxyethanol can cause central nervous system suppression (6). Hence, infants must not be exposed to phenoxyethanol. For this very reason, nipple creams (that lactating mothers may apply) with phenoxyethanol must be avoided.

How To Spot Phenoxyethanol On Product Labels?

Phenoxyethanol can be found as an ingredient in cosmetic products in many forms, such as:

  • 2-phenoxyethanol
  • Phenoxytol
  • Ethylene glycol monophenyl ether
  • 1-hydroxy-2-phenoxyethane
  • PhE
  • Dowanol
  • Arosol
  • Phenoxetol
  • Rose Ether
  • Phenoxyethyl alcohol
  • Beta-hydroxyethyl phenyl ether
  • Euxyl K 400 (a mixture of phenoxyethanol and 1,2-dibromo-2,4-dicyanobutane)

How To Use Phenoxyethanol-Based Skin Products?

Phenoxyethanol can be found in a wide range of products such as:

  • Perfumes
  • Deodorants
  • Lipsticks
  • Foundations
  • Blush
  • Hand sanitizers
  • Soaps and handwash
  • Ultrasound gel

People who are not allergic to phenoxyethanol can use products containing this preservative every day. But if at any point one feels allergic to this preservative or develops an adverse reaction, they are advised to stop use and visit a dermatologist immediately.

Whether phenoxyethanol-based skin products must be applied during the day or at night depends upon the product being used. Please check with your dermatologist for further clarification.

Who Shouldn’t Use Phenoxyethanol-Based Skin Care Products?

Phenoxyethanol is safe to use in cosmetic and beauty products. However, one can still develop an allergy to it. This is especially true in people with sensitive skin. These individuals must perform a patch test before they use a product containing preservatives like phenoxyethanol.

You can perform a patch test by applying a small amount of the phenoxyethanol-containing product on the back of your hand or wrist and wait for 24 hours. If you do not develop a reaction, you can use the product.

While phenoxyethanol-containing products are safe for everyone, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding must avoid them as there is not enough data to conclusively prove that the preservative is safe. It may be a good idea to consult with your doctor before trying a product containing the preservative.

Infants must not be exposed to phenoxyethanol-containing products.

Individuals with a tendency towards dry skin conditions like eczema and those with sensitive skin must also steer clear of products containing phenoxyethanol.

Conclusion

Phenoxyethanol is a widely-used preservative in cosmetics, toiletries, and other skin care products. While it is considered safe when used in concentrations up to 1%, those with sensitive skin can develop an allergic reaction to it. If you are allergic to phenoxyethanol, steer clear of products containing it. Pregnant or lactating women, infants, and those with dry skin conditions must also avoid products with this preservative.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is phenoxyethanol approved by the FDA to be used in skin care products?

Using phenoxyethanol in a maximum concentration of 1% is considered safe. The FDA allows the use of phenoxyethanol in cosmetic and beauty products and also as an indirect food additive (7), (8).

Is phenoxyethanol natural?

While the phenoxyethanol used in skincare products is synthetically manufactured, this preservative can be naturally found in chicory and green tea.

Sources

Articles on StyleCraze are backed by verified information from peer-reviewed and academic research papers, reputed organizations, research institutions, and medical associations to ensure accuracy and relevance. Read our editorial policy to learn more.

  1. Prevalence of Preservatives Across All Product Types in the Contact Allergen Management Program
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28098722/
  2. Cosmetic Preservation: A Review on Present Strategies
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6099538/
  3. Safety Review of Phenoxyethanol When Used as a Preservative in Cosmetics
    https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/jdv.15944
  4. Safety review of phenoxyethanol when used as a preservative in cosmetics
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31588615/
  5. Contact dermatitis due to ultrasound gel: A case report and published work review
    https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1346-8138.13066
  6. 2-Phenoxyethanol
    https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/2-Phenoxyethanol#section=Inhalation-Risk
  7. CFR – Code of Federal Regulations Title 21
    https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/CFRSearch.cfm?fr=175.105&SearchTerm=ethylene%20glycol%20monophenyl%20etherhttp://www.cosmeticsinfo.org/glossary/letter_e
  8. 9 Final Report on the Safety Assessment of Phenoxyethanol
    https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.3109/10915819009078737
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Arshiya Syeda is an editor and certified counselor. Ever the lover of the written word, she served on the editorial boards of her school and college newsletters. Writing articles on hairstyles, hair care, and nutrition helped her combine her love for reading, writing, and research. As an editor, she helps her team members deliver polished and meticulously researched content. Arshiya is fluent in English, Urdu, and Hindi and aims to become a multilinguist by learning German and teaching herself American Sign Language (ASL).