There's a growing trend that the ingredient phenoxyethanol is becoming a commonplace (a staple, if you like it). It's mainly due to the green movement and the awareness of going 'paraben-free' when choosing products to use (not to mention it's easy to produce and generally inexpensive). Phenoxyethanol is mainly used to replace parabens. But does it make it a better and healthier alternative? Here's what you need to know about it.
What is phenoxyethanol, and how does it work?
Let's start from the basics: phenoxyethanol is an ingredient used as a preservative in quite a lot of skincare and cosmetic products. There is a high chance that you'll find this ingredient in at least 10 of the products in your shower. (go ahead and check it out before continuing reading this article:). That can also come as several aliases such as ethylene glycol monophenyl ether, rose ether, phenoxyethanol alcohol, or dowanol, to name a few.
It's a type of glycol ether that acts as a solvent in the formula, and interestingly enough, it comes in a sticky texture. Phenoxyethanol uses as a preservative, anti-bacterial, and a stabilizer to prevent other ingredients in the formula from deteriorating or becoming less effective, so the whole product has a longer lifespan. Especially for products containing key ingredients that tend to get rancid in a short time, for example, vitamin C.
And the number of products using this ingredient has tripled ever since the public slowly opting out from using products that have parabens in it, apart from the fact that the preservatives are a versatile chemical component that works well with others.
Here's an interesting fact: studies have indicated that combining phenoxyethanol with other chemicals shows promising results in reducing acne and preventing future breakouts (particularly for inflammatory-types of acne). Read more about it further in this article.
A database provided by the Skin Deep list phenoxyethanol as low to medium toxicity, with Environmental Working Group (EWG) rates it slightly higher, likely due to its nature as an irritant as well.
This is a good indicator that while a lot of experts are telling us that phenoxyethanol is deemed safe, we as consumers need to be aware that the ingredient can pose a health risk if we get overexposed from it. In fact, there's a growing concern that phenoxyethanol can cause allergic reactions and damages to the nervous system.
Is phenoxyethanol all-natural?
Phenoxyethanol does come in natural form, as part of the component in green tea. But for phenoxyethanol that we see in products, they're manufactured synthetically.
Is phenoxyethanol vegan?
Phenoxyethanol is vegan since the ingredient that you see in the products is synthetically made, either from ethylene glycol or alkyl ethers, which means it's not coming from an animal source.
Is phenoxyethanol FDA approved?
FDA has issued statements to warn the public against the ingestion of phenoxyethanol and the use of products containing it to infants and children under three years old. At the moment, the overall limit of phenoxyethanol in products is capped at 1%. But again, please remember that no one is limiting how many products containing phenoxyethanol can be used at the same time.
Is phenoxyethanol banned in some countries?
Yes!! At the moment, EU (from European Economic Community (EEC)) approves the use of phenoxyethanol up to the maximum limit of 1%, and countries like Japan adapted approach made by EU in regulating skincare, cosmetics, and household products that use phenoxyethanol. Hopefully, soon the regulations in the rest of the countries will be more strict and force companies to look for only natural alternatives with no shortcuts!
What are the side effects of phenoxyethanol?
The thing with phenoxyethanol is it's also a known irritant to humans, especially to our eyes, lungs, and skin. This fact is echoed by FDA that warned us the ingredient can shut down our central nervous system, on top moderate side effects such as vomiting, nausea, and contact dermatitis (another term for itch and redness to the skin). This is the main reason why phenoxyethanol is cautioned in the States, while banned in other countries.
Is phenoxyethanol safe for skin?
In most cases, phenoxyethanol is considered safe for our skin; you need to be cautious if your skin is generally sensitive, having specific skin issues such as eczema, or perhaps vulnerable particularly to phenoxyethanol.
Contact dermatitis is common side effects of phenoxyethanol (American Society of Contact Dermatitis even list it as one of the core allergens even at low concentration of 1%), that can potentially develop into an all-out allergic reaction. Take note if phenoxyethanol is the culprit of your allergic reaction, as there can be other factors causing it.
On a related note: if you have eczema, you need to avoid phenoxyethanol altogether as your skin is quite vulnerable to this ingredient.
Despite the side effects, some might think that phenoxyethanol is a better alternative as an ingredient in cosmetics. Other options include preservatives that release formaldehyde as their by-products, allergen-causing methylisothiazolinone, and of course, the cancer-causing parabens.
The safest option will be to look for 100% natural, plant-based products for all your personal and household needs.
Is phenoxyethanol safe pregnancy?
While phenoxyethanol is regarded as safe for expecting mothers, you might need to be cautious to avoid exposing yourself to a lot of the preservatives. One case to consider is FDA warned the public to avoid purchasing Mommy's Bliss Nipple Cream as the product contained phenoxyethanol that affects the nervous system and causing vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea, as well as changes in skin color to the infants.
Is phenoxyethanol safe in baby wipes?
Phenoxyethanol is also commonly found in baby wipes, and no, the ingredient makes the product that you need to avoid.
Even if the FDA approves the use of baby wipes containing phenoxyethanol, the agency cautions the mothers to not use it near the infant's mouth. In my opinion, you should avoid it at all costs. Phenoxyethanol releases formaldehyde as it breaks down, and it's a red flag right there to consider (of course, on top of other ingredients such as phthalates, fragrance, and parabens in baby wipes). To put it simply, avoid baby products that have phenoxyethanol to be safe.
Is phenoxyethanol good for acne?
As mentioned in the article, phenoxyethanol shows promising results that it works effectively in treating and reducing acne although the jury is still out there; phenoxyethanol is still an allergen; an element that triggers your immune system to react unexpectedly and causing you redness, itchiness, or as far as blistering. For anyone with sensitive skin, having skin issues, especially eczema, should avoid anything with phenoxyethanol.
The Bottom Line...
Looking at the trend in the beauty market, you can see the use of phenoxyethanol is growing fast that it has become something of a staple ingredient in products that we use.
Phenoxyethanol saves cost for skincare companies, but the health risks associated with it should not be ignored altogether.
It is safe to say that if you are currently breastfeeding, expecting, or simply have sensitive skin, you might want to ban this ingredient from your life, as best as you can.