What’s That? Wednesday: Phenoxyethanol


This week’s focus is Phenoxyethanol. If you haven’t heard of Phenoxyethanol, chances are, something in your cabinet has Phenoxyethanol in it. Phenoxyethanol is a commonly used synthetic preservative in the cosmetics world. It is derived from petroleum and thus, is a controversial ingredient in the clean beauty world.

It is well noted in the scientific community that Phenoxyethanol is considered toxic in its undiluted form.

Most often, it is added into cosmetics in a quantity of less than 1% and thus, considered safe. However, the European Commission has some concerns about using diluted Phenoxyethanol on the lips or near the mouth.

Most people do not experience any negative reactions to Phenoxyethanol; however, it is possible. If you have an allergy to Phenoxyethanol, you may see skin irritation in the form of: redness, rashes, eczema, rosacea, or even breakouts. Additionally, petroleum based ingredients tend to “seal” your skin, and thus, can clog your pores easily. 

Phenoxyethanol has been shown to depress the central nervous system of infants. Therefore, as a new mother, always take note of what products your child is ingesting i.e. nipple cream, lip products, lotion, etc. 

My Experience with Phenoxyethanol

I’ve always suffered from hormonal acne on my chin. As a teenager, I’d also get the occasional pimple in my T-zone. But now, it’s really limited down to my chin area.

I slowly transitioned to clean beauty and reached a point where I felt fully switched over and dang proud of myself. At some point during this process, my melasma got significantly worse, and I decided to see a holistic dermatologist. (I will absolutely elaborate on melasma at a later time but just note that my melasma wouldn’t have worsened due to my switch to clean products – just a coincidence.)

The holistic dermatologist started me on a sandalwood cream to use on my melasma areas. I didn’t even bother to look at the ingredients; my melasma had gotten so bad that I had considered awful, conventional routes, so whatever this holistic dermatologist recommended would be fine! Sure enough, a day or two after my first application, I developed a few pimples and some redness right above the corners of my lips. This was on odd spot for me, so I checked out the ingredient label. Lo and behold, Phenoxyethanol!

I’ve continued to use the cream and continue to get blemishes in unusual locations; I’ve chalked it up to Phenoxyethanol. Since my reaction is mild and manageable, I may allow limited Phenoxyethanol in my products only after thorough consideration. I will always look for alternatives that do not contain it; and I will never choose a lip product that contains Phenoxyethanol… or its other aliases!

Phenoxyethanol Aliases 

Beware of synthetic ingredients with multiple variations! Their differing names make it difficult to discern a product’s safety quickly. Here are other names for Phenoxyethanol:

2-hydroxyethyl phenyl ether
Ethylene glycol monophenyl ether

The Verdict

It’s not ideal that our products have to contain synthetic preservatives to keep their potency. But the thing is, mold isn’t great either. Any product with water in it needs some sort of preservative to keep it mold-free. Thankfully, more and more options are emerging; there are airless packaging option, vitamin E, rosemary oil, etc.

Phenoxyethanol is in everything, and I mean.. EV-ERY-THING! Test it out (or don’t!), and draw the line where it is appropriate for you.


What are your thoughts? 





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