Friday 14 January 2011


What a lovely looking chemical compound I hear you say! And you'd be right, but what exactly is the deal with phenoxyethanol...

During my research for the last post I got diverted trawling through ingredient lists and noticed that an ingredient I've seen popping up in natural products that I use and have mentioned- phenoxyethanol- was now popping up on all over websites reporting worries over its safety. Uh-oh.

Phenoxyethanol is a preservative and is present in many formulations where parabens have been shunned.  For a while all was well. The cosmetics industry has welcomed phenoxyethanol into the fold and held a party in its honour.

But the Japanese have been putting limits on its use. The FDA in America warned that it can cause the shut down of the central nervous system! vomitting! and contact dermatitis! The European Union classifies it as an irritant! All this whilst I was slapping it all over my face! Blimey.

So what is the story...The issue lies in the concentration levels of this ingredient. Many things that are deemed safe are only so if the concentration is limited. And phenoxyethanol seems to be one of these things. Typically the concentration in cosmetics is 1% or less. But that means in an average 200ml bottle of lotion, body wash, whatever, there's a teaspoon's worth of pure phenoxyethanol. I think that seems like quite a lot. And you must consider this - does it make a difference having that teaspoon all at once or consuming it gradually over the course of a few months?

It's inconclusive, but there is a question mark over it now. The cosmetics database make clear that any reactions studied were caused by phenoxyethanol itself and not by products containing it. So that's comforting!  It seems it is something I'll have to keep an eye on... Just how many times did I write the word phenoxyethanol?

One last time. Phenoxyethanol.

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