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2D structural formula of Phenoxyethanol


What is phenoxyethanol?

“Phenoxyethanol, with the chemical formula C8H10O2, is a germicidal and germistatic glycol ether, phenol ether, and aromatic alcohol often used together with quaternary ammonium compounds.” Wikipedia

Phenoxyethanol dangers

This substance belongs to the groups:

Is phenoxyethanol safe to use in your cosmetics and personal care products? The answer is; yes and no.

The most common side effect is phenoxyethanol allergy. In other words, contact allergy.

As with many allergic reactions, it might take a couple of days before your allergic symptoms to appear. So if you are experiencing allergic symptoms, such as a rash, it can be helpful to think back and remember which products you have used the last days to determine what caused it.

If you suspect that you have phenoxyethanol allergy, it is recommended to visit a medical professional, such as dermatologist, to get a patch test. 

Phenoxyethanol side effects for infants

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a project of Breast Cancer Prevention Partners (previously the Breast Cancer Fund) have found that this ingredient may cause severe allergies and negative effects on infants’ nervous system.

They have found the following;

“Acute nervous system effects (infants): In 2008, the FDA warned consumers not to purchase Mommy’s Bliss Nipple Cream. Phenoxyethanol, found in the cream, was depressing the central nervous system and causing vomiting and diarrhea in breastfeeding infants.

Symptoms of a depressed nervous system include a decrease in infant’s appetite, difficulty waking the infant, limpness of extremities and change in skin color. There is no known health risk to the mother.”

Phenoxyethanol toxicity by contamination

Phenoxyethanol can be found naturally. However,  if you encounter phenoxyethanol in a product it is most likely to have been synthetically manufactured.

It is made by adding ethylene oxide to phenol. This means, as with so many other substances, that it could be contaminated with trace amounts of both ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane. You can read more about those two chemicals on their own pages below.


So, even though it is not listed in the ingredient lists, phenoxyethanol is likely to be contaminated with:

  • 1,4- dioxane – linked to cancer.
  • Ethylene oxide – linked to cancer, organ system toxicity, genetic defects, and irritation.

Phenoxyethanol cancer

This ingredient is not considered to be carcinogenic. However, due to the way it is manufactured, it might be contaminated with other more toxic chemicals, as seen above.

If you are concerned about used this ingredient, you might want to avoid phenoxyethanol during pregnancy.

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Phenoxyethanol in skin care & cosmetics

Phenoxyethanol is a preservative and perfume stabilizer used in a wide variety of cosmetics* and pharmaceuticals.

Nowadays it can often be found as a replacement for the paraben preservatives. Many manufacturers avoid parabens (and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives) because of their bad reputation and harmful effects. Instead, they use phenoxyethanol.

Phenoxyethanol uses

This ingredient is reportedly also used in products labeled as “natural” and can be found in everything from lotion, mascaras, and perfumes.

But it is also found in insect repellents, antiseptics, and lubricants.

We use the European Commissions definition of Cosmetics:
“Cosmetics range from everyday hygiene products such as soap, shampoo, deodorant, and toothpaste to luxury beauty items including perfumes and makeup”.

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