Since when the manufacturers of cosmetics products realized the impact of bacteria, yeast, and mold on the shelf life of their finished products and their market benefits. The manufacturers have since then begun to preserve their products using preservative systems. Some of the preservatives are natural while others are synthetic. In this article, we are going to look at the benefits and side effects of using Phenoxyethanol in cosmetics products, which is one of the widely used synthetic preservatives in many cosmetics products.

 phenoxyethanol in cosmetics
picture via Wikimedia | phenoxyethanol in cosmetics

    What is Phenoxyethanol in Cosmetics?

    Phenoxyethanol is one of the widely used and approved synthetic preservatives, which is allowed to be used in cosmetics products up to 1% concentration.

    The preservative system of phenoxyethanol is quite amazing, which works in a different range of cosmetics formulations and PH. It has a wide range of broad-spectrum activity against yeast, mold, and bacteria.

    Because of the low health related issues that is associated with phenoxyethanol when compared with some available chemicals in preservative systems like parabens, phenoxyethanol quickly becomes popular among cosmetics manufacturers as broad-spectrum preservative system in body lotions, shampoos, body creams, and a stabilizer in soaps and perfumes.

    Chemical and Physical Properties of Phenoxyethanol

    Physically, phenoxyethanol can be described as a colorless, clear, and oily liquid with rose-like pleasant smell at room temperature, low water solubility, and evaporation rate.

    Chemically, phenoxyethanol is produced by reacting phenol compound and ethylene oxide under extreme temperature and pressure in the laboratory. It can also be synthesized from natural plant products like green tea.

    Phenoxyethanol INCI names and Synonyms

    • phenoxyethanol
    • ethylene glycol monophenyl ether
    • 2-Phenoxyethanol
    • 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
    • 1-Hydroxy-2-phenoxyethane
    • 2-Hydroxyethyl phenyl ether
    • 2-Phenoxyethyl alcohol
    • beta-Hydroxyethyl phenyl ether
    • Phenyl cellosolve
    • Phenylmonoglycol ether

    Phenoxyethanol Uses in Cosmetics

    However, despite claims that phenoxyethanol can be used to get rid of acne, the chemical is primarily added in cosmetics products to serve as preservatives against microbial growth.

    It protects the action of bacteria, yeast, and mold from contaminating your products. Therefore, phenoxyethanol helps enhance the quality and safety of your finished cosmetics products and also extend the shelf life at which your cosmetics products can be stored.

    Additionally, phenoxyethanol does not combine with other ingredients when added as a preservative. This also makes phenoxyethanol to be used as a stabilizer in the manufacture of soaps and shampoos.

    Phenoxyethanol is also compatible with many cosmetics formulations, which can be used as preservatives in different cosmetics products such as hair care, skincare, and dental care products.

    Which Cosmetics Contain Phenoxyethanol

    Personal care products containing Phenoxyethanol are:

    • Shampoos
    • Soaps
    • Body creams
    • Body lotions
    • Lipsticks
    • Toothpastes
    • Mascara
    • Finishing powder
    • Perfumes
    • Sunscreens
    • Hand sanitizer
    • Foundations
    • Blush

    Recommended reading:  Germaben ii or Optiphen: which preservative to use

    Phenoxyethanol Safety

    There are claims about the safety of Phenoxyethanol in cosmetics, for instance, in 2008, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) temporarily suspended any product containing phenoxyethanol from the markets and stopped cosmetics manufacturers from including the chemical in their personal care products.

    This was due to an incidence that was associated with Phenoxyethanol to cause respiratory disorders and stomach problems in nursing babies who were exposed to the chemical during breastfeeding.

    However, after the chemical was found to be harmless on adults and the nursing mothers. It was then approved to be used in cosmetics.

    In fact, the FDA  approved phenoxyethanol as an indirect food additive after reviewing its safety.

    The Cosmetics Ingredients Review Expert panel have shown phenoxyethanol to be neither a primary nor cumulative skin irritant after reviewing available report on phenoxyethanol in 1990.

    Moreover, in 2007 the panel of cosmetics ingredients review reconfirmed its view about the safety of phenoxyethanol after reviewing additional data on the chemical.

    While the European Union (EU)  regulations act on cosmetics products allowed phenoxyethanol to be used in cosmetics products typically less than or equal to 1.0%.

    On the other hand, EWG's Skin Deep (environmental working group) database rated phenoxyethanol 3-4 toxicity on a scale of 10 with 10 being the highest point of toxicity.

    Phenoxyethanol Dangers in Cosmetics

    Phenoxyethanol is recently taken as an alternative preservative system to parabens. Its popularity and usage is increasingly turning up in beauty care products. But, is phenoxyethanol safe? What are the dangers, myths, and facts of Phenoxyethanol?

    Phenoxyethanol is chemically a glycol ether which is found in some plants such as green tea in small quantities. It is used in suppressing the microbial activities of acne-causing bacteria and as stabilizer in personal hair care soaps and perfumes.

    However, several groups and organizations highlighted the dangers of phenoxyethanol and described it as skin irritant and allergen.

    The report from the product’s Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) showed that phenoxyethanol can be harmful when swallowed by mouth, inhaled or absorbed through the skin, which can cause reproductive failure.

    In this case, the report by MSDS refers to 100% concentrations of phenoxyethanol. But, it was regarded or concluded phenoxyethanol is safe when used at lower concentrations.

    Moreover, several studies on animals showed that phenoxyethanol is toxic even at low concentrations.

    One report from the European Commission on Health and Food Safety showed phenoxyethanol to cause brain and nervous system problems on exposed rabbits and rats at low to moderate phenoxyethanol concentrations.

    One study made on human objects showed phenoxyethanol to cause hives and anaphylaxis (a severe form of allergic responses) when they applied topical skincare products containing phenoxyethanol.

    However, in the same study, it was also showed that the health risk of phenoxyethanol to cause anaphylaxis is very uncommon.

    And according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG'S Skin Deep), phenoxyethanol is an irritant with a toxicity rate of 3-4 on a scale of 10.

    Additionally, one study showed phenoxyethanol to cause contact allergy.

    In a separate study, phenoxyethanol was also shown to cause contact urticaria in males following the application of aftershave beauty care products containing phenoxyethanol.

    And according to one study, 2-phenoxyethanol caused contact urticaria and anaphylaxis.


    Find out from a certified medical expert whether you are allergic to Phenoxyethanol. Then, if you are allergic to it, kindly stop using any products containing Phenoxyethanol.

    Moreover, pregnant women should also avoid this chemical because the benefits to be drived from using a product containing Phenoxyethanol during pregnancy is quite less when compared with the side effects. Breastfeeding or nursing mothers should also avoid Phenoxyethanol. This is because Phenoxyethanol may interfere with your baby central nervous system when the baby is exposed to the chemical during breastfeeding.

    Medical experts also warned that children under 3 years of age should not be exposed to Phenoxyethanol containing products at whatsoever concentration.

    However, a healthy adult who is not allergic to Phenoxyethanol can use the product containing the chemical typically at 1% concentration or low. It is important to know that the lower the concentration the better and always put yourself in the shoes of your consumers.

    As a consumer, you should also try to avoid using too many products containing phenoxyethanol. This is because the small concentration of phenoxyethanol may accumulate and turn into a large amount when you are using too many products containing Phenoxyethanol

    So, avoid using more than two products containing phenoxyethanol at the same time.


    Phenoxyethanol is the new most used preservative system in many makeups and personal care products because of the bad reputation parabens containing products have in the market.

    But, does it safe?

    We reviewed the benefits and side effects of using phenoxyethanol in cosmetics products while highlighting the safety and dangers of phenoxyethanol in cosmetics in this article.


    Byrdie"What to Know Before Using Products With Phenoxyethanol"

    Cosmetics info " Phenoxyethanol safety assessment ".

    European Union Database" substance: 2-phenoxyethanol"

    EWG'S Skin Deep "phenoxyethanol"

    FDA "Foods additive and petition".

    Gallo R, Marro I, Sorbara S. Contact allergy from phenoxyethanol in Fitostimoline gauzes. Contact Dermatitis. 2005;53(4):241. DOI:10.1111/j.0105-1873.2005.0670i.x

    GoodGuide "Products containing phenoxyethanol"

    Healthline "Is phenoxyethanol in cosmetics safe?"

    Lujan D, Hernandez-Machin B, Peñate Y, Borrego L. Contact urticaria due to phenoxyethanol in an aftershave. Dermatitis. 2009;20(4): E10.

    Núñez Orjales R, Carballas Vázquez C, Carballada González F, Boquete París M. 2-phenoxyethanol-induced contact urticaria and anaphylaxis. J Investig Allergol Clin Immunol. 2010;20(4):354–355.


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