2D structural formula of Phenoxyethanol


What is it?

“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

What are the effects?

This substance belongs to the groups:

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a project of Breast Cancer Prevention Partners (previously the Breast Cancer Fund) list Phenoxyethanol as a substance that may cause severe allergies and affects 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 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.


So, even though it is not listed in the ingredient lists, phenoxyethanol is likely to be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane and ethylene oxide.

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

How is it used?

Phenoxyethanol is used as a perfume stabilizer and a preservative in 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 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”.

Read about the other ingredients.


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