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Know Your Preservatives: Phenoxyethanol

June 19, 2018


Your skin is the biggest organ in your body – I’m sure you’ve heard. That’s why we should do everything we can in our capacity to keep our skin healthy, and free from toxins that could possibly harm such an important organ in our body. There are preservatives in things that we use everyday, like pharmaceutical products, beauty products and even food. However, just because we ingest certain preservatives means that all preservatives are safe! Let’s look at one of the commonly found preservatives in cosmetics – phenoxyethanol. It is a popular alternative to parabens and is found in about 23.9% of personal care products.

Ethylene Glycol Monophenyl Ether, or otherwise known as Phenoxyethanol, is a preservative that has antibacterial and antifungal properties. This is a ether alcohol that can be found naturally in green tea and chicory, a blue Mediterranean flower. However, the phenoxyethanol commonly found in cosmetics are most probably synthetically made in laboratories from reactions between phenol and ethylene oxide. This substance helps to preserve products stored in bottles to lengthen its shelf life.

Generally, phenoxyethanol is a gentler “natural” preservative, and is considered to be well- tolerated.  However, even though it is not as harsh as other older preservatives, it can still cause irritation to the skin and lungs in certain concentrations, according to the Material Safety Data Sheet.

Now that you know the potential risks, how should we regard products with phenoxyethanol?

Phenoxyethanol is considered safe for concentrations under 1%. ( according to healthline.com) Hence, if you have sensitive skin or prone to dermatitis, it is best to do a patch test and if it causes irritation or a adverse reaction, you should then avoid it.

One important step for individuals with sensitive skin is to learn how to identify it in your products. Reading ingredient lists is a very important step to take before purchasing a product so that you can make the most informed decisions. If you don’t see phenoxyethanol in the list, maybe it’s because it is disguised as one of the following:

  • Dowanol
  • Phenoxyethyl alcohol
  • Phenoxetol
  • Rose ether
  • Emery 6705
  • Beta-hydroxyethyl phenyl ether
  • Arosol
  • Glycol monophenyl ether

Sometimes, preservatives are inevitable in our products, especially when we want to increase the life span of our products and keep them bacteria free. Thus, we can consider natural preservatives ( where possible) that were extracted from natural sources, like:

  • Sodium Chloride – Salt draws moisture from the product, creating a hostile environment for bacteria.
  • Lemon – citric acid found in lemon promotes preservation, and vitamin c removes moisture to prevent rotting.
  • Honey – With its low moisture content, it helps with preventing microbial growth, along with a low pH and anti-microbial components.
  • Grapefruit Seed Extract – It is well loved antibiotic, antiseptic and disinfectant that is proven to be effective against more than 800 microbes, 100 fungal strains and lots of parasites.
  • Neem Oil –  One of the most powerful and multipurpose oils available on the market now, it is a highly popular anti-fungal and anti-bacterial agent.

Know what to look out for, what to avoid and how to replace commercially popular synthetics with natural alternatives. When it comes to your skin, make informed choices and treat your skin with respect, and it will treat you well!


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