Since all of us in the Supplet community are very careful of the products we put on our skin it is time we discuss this common skin care ingredient and get to the bottom of how bad it really is. Some describe phenoxyethanol as the safest artificial preservative available for use in skin care products, with no serious side-effects or toxicity, while others put it in the same category as parabens (which can mimic hormones and, thus, bring on early puberty or reduce sperm count).
Well, which one is it? And, what exactly is it?
Phenoxyethanol is a glycol ether (meaning that it is a solvent the purpose of which is to dissolve a liquid with a chemically different structure) that is often used in skin care products. Phenoxyethanol is oily and colorless, with bactericidal properties. It does not react with copper or lead and hence is easier to use in some applications.
According to various sources and research (including EWG.ORG), the biggest concern its use presents is eye, skin, or lung irritation, as well as system toxicity in case of prolonged or excessive exposure. The other concern, perhaps the greater one, is that there is not enough information and historical data to determine potentially harmful effects. The EU limits its cosmetic use to 1% concentration.
OK, but how bad is it, really?
Well, it is a chemical preservative that is known to have some low / moderate side effect and one that might have more serious side effects we do not yet know about. Contrast that with parabens, which we know have a lot more serious side effects (again, they can disrupt the hormone system, for example).
If the potential side effects concern you and you want to avoid Phenoxyethanol, look out for its following synonyms on product packaging: 2-HYDROXYETHYL PHENYL ETHER; 2-PHENOXY- ETHANOL; 2-PHENOXYETHANOL; 2-PHENOXYETHYL ALCOHOL; ETHANOL, 2-PHENOXY-; ETHANOL, 2PHENOXY; ETHYLENE GLYCOL MONOPHENYL ETHER; PHENOXYTOL; 1-HYDROXY-2-PHENOXYETHANE; 2-FENOXYETHANOL (CZECH) ; 2-PHENOXYETHANOL.
The bottom line is: avoid phenoxyethanol if you can since it may have some side effects that develop with prolonged use – there are plenty of natural skin care products made without it or other artificial preservatives (take Dr. Hauschka, Weleda, or Living Nature – all of which work beautifully without artificial preservatives).