Is Phenoxyethanol Safe in Cosmetics? [ 3 Reasons to Avoid It ]

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What is phenoxyethanol in skin care?

Why is phenoxyethanol bad?

Is phenoxyethanol dangerous?

What products contain phenoxyethanol?


Nowadays, we use a large number of cosmetic products on a daily basis. That, of course, means that we put many different artificial, as well as natural ingredients and substances on our skin.

In RawBeautySource, we have already talked about the importance of checking the ingredients in our cosmetics in order to prevent skin damage, breakouts, allergies, and to keep your skin healthy, vibrant, and glowing.

On particular ingredient, which many dermatologists and medical specialists consider as controversial, is called phenoxyethanol. Some of the major reasons why phenoxyethanol is concerning, include it’s potential toxicity, allergen activity, and it’s effect on your endocrine system. 

This article will look detailedly into those three negative aspects of using phenoxyethanol-containing products.

Keep in mind that every skin is different and may react differently to the presence of phenoxyethanol in cosmetic ingredients. For that reason, if you have any concerns, it’s a good idea to have a consultation with a board-certified dermatologist who can give you tailored advice about  your skin.

Now let’s dive in!

What is phenoxyethanol in skin care?

Phenoxyethanol is basically a cosmetic preservative. It’s primary function is to prevent bacterial contamination of personal care products, as well as stop and avoid the growth of microorganisms, yeast, and bacteria. As a result, phenoxyethanol can make skincare products more durable and resistant to external factors (e.g., heat, microorganisms) and may increase the shelf life and prolong the expiration date of cosmetics. [1]

But besides all those “benefits,” and the fact that this cosmetic preservative is considered to be safe at a maximum concentration of 1%, there can be several negative characteristics of phenoxyethanol. [2]

Related: 32 Common Causes Of Skin Allergies [ Evidence Based ]

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Why is phenoxyethanol bad?

According to New York Post statistics, American women spend on average $3,000 on cosmetics annually. [3] That being said, individuals often use more than 5 different personal care products (including toothpaste, perfume, and shampoo). If most of the products (or even all of them) contain phenoxyethanol, the concentration of this preservative that is absorbed by the skin daily may exceed the recommended 1% concentration.

With such “overdose of phenoxyethanol“, your skin may start suffering damage.

Is phenoxyethanol dangerous?

When big concentrations of phenoxyethanol are absorbed by the skin, it may cause damage not only to the skin but also to your overall health. Here are 3 reasons to avoid using only products containing phenoxyethanol:

It can be toxic

According to the Journal of the American College of Toxicology, phenoxyethanol has shown potential toxic effects on kidneys and liver, as exposure to high concentrations of it may result in dysfunctions or functional mutations of those organs.

The toxic effects of this ingredient can be more severe if it is ingested. That can easily happen when you use lip balm, scrub, or moisturizer with phenoxyethanol near your mouth or lips. And with long term ingestion of small amounts, this preservative can be accumulated in the body and may cause chronic damage to organs.

What is more, newborns are prone to ingesting phenoxyethanol through the breastmilk. This may impose higher toxicity risks for them because even lower concentration than 1% may be fatal to the health of the liver and kidneys.

Related: Jaundice: What Makes The Skin Turn Yellow? [ 4 Common Causes ]

May cause severe allergies

Phenoxyethanol can be a “hidden” ingredient that causes allergic reactions and severely irritates sensitive skin. But why is it hidden? Because it is often present in cosmetic products, which are advertised as “paraben and irritators free.”

However, exactly this preservative is the reason why many people find even products with “clean ingredients” to be aggregative.

Phenoxyethanol may cause the development of contact dermatitis, eczema, inflammations, and anaphylaxis, as well as enhance the symptoms of atopic dermatitis. Its allergen properties are evidenced in Japanese dermatological study, and the European Union has categorized it officially as a skin irritator.

Find out more: What Does Skin Allergy Look Like? [ 5 Tips to Get Rid of It ]

Can be an endocrine system disruptor

According to a 2019 review paper on phenoxyethanol safety, long-term atopic exposure of phenoxyethanol may play a role in endocrine system damage. [4] The reason for this is the fact that the preservative penetrates through then skin and may enter directly into the bloodstream, which delivers small amounts of it to the different body tissues, including the endocrine glands (e.g., thyroid, adrenal, pancreas, hypothalamus, etc.)

Even though this negative effect is still not confirmed and fully scientifically proven, phenoxyethanol may disrupt the function of those endocrine glands, and eventually cause hormonal imbalances, metabolic disorders (insulin resistance, PCOS), fertility issues, or medical conditions related to the central and periphery nervous system.

What products contain phenoxyethanol?

According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, phenoxyethanol can be often found in various personal care products, including [5] :

  • Moisturizers
  • Eye shadow, blush, and other powder products
  • Foundation and concealer
  • Sunscreen
  • Conditioner
  • Mascara
  • Eye liner
  • Shampoo
  • Lip products
  • Body wash and soap
  • Hair spray
  • Nail polish
  • Baby products (e.g., wipes, lotion, soap)
  • Shaving cream
  • Toothpaste
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Hair removal wax
  • Perfumes and fragrance


In one regular shampoo bottle, there is approximately 1 teaspoon of phenoxyethanol. And daily, we are exposed to great amounts of this preservative because it is a very popular ingredient for cosmetics.

Imagine what amounts of it we put on our skin if all of your cosmetics contain it: masks, lotions, moisturizers, eye cream, exfoliators, make up. It is being accumulated on the skin and in the body with every day that goes by. And the risks of it to negatively influence our health increase steadily.

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