The use of synthetic preservative Phenoxyethanol in natural skin care products

Is Phenoxyethanol Safe?

The answer to this depends on who you ask. We have done extensive research on this topic. We sell many brands of natural skin care, some contain 1% or less of the synthetic preservative phenoxyethanol, many only contain natural preservatives such as hops or grapefruit seed oil, or a number of other natural preservatives. Anything that’s classified as certified organic cannot have this chemical preservative in it.

We, along with leading brands such as the Australian made Sukin, or UK based brand Dr Organic and many others, believe it’s safe to use at less than 1% of the total product. Bestselling book and leading authority on what’s safe and what’s not, The Chemical Maze, has phenoxyethanol listed with a frowny face, but says the following:-

“Suspected reproductive & developmental toxicity; effects from exposure may include headache, eye irritation, tremors & CNS depression; mild irritation on sensitive skin; absorbed via the skin; toxic to the kidneys, the nervous system and the liver; safe as used up to 5% (CIR)”

One person will read this statement and alarm bells will go off. Others will read the statement and come to the conclusion that at levels of less than 1%, this is a safe product to use. We are not here to force one opinion or the other. We sell products that cater to people who come up with either answer.

But there’s an FDA warning out about Phenoxyethanol

Yes there is. You can read it HERE. Released in May 2008, this warning was put out in specific relation to Mommy’s Bliss Nipple Cream because it can be harmful to nursing infants. This is because infants were being exposed to this product as a food, because they were putting their mouth on their mothers breast and potentially eating the product. There is NO MENTION in the FDA warning about any danger to the mother by rubbing the nipple cream on their skin.

Phenoxyethanol should NOT be ingested by ANYONE. All our research indicates that at levels of 1% or less, it’s safe to be used topically in cosmetics. We only stock skin care that uses this preservative at LESS THAN 1%. Of course, if you have a sensitivity to it, you should stop using it. We have plenty of customers who get rashes from 100% pure essential oils. Everyone reacts differently to a variety of skin care products.

Why do manufacturers put Phenoxyethanol in their products when there’s a natural alternative?

For the most part, it’s all about economics. It’s an affordable ingredient that prolongs the shelf life of a moisturiser for longer than natural alternatives once the jar is open. Most naturally preserved products have a shorter shelf life once they’re opened and exposed to oxygen, usually 3-6 months, where products preserved with phenoxyethanol have a longer shelf life once opened.

So really, it comes down to this ……. are you in the market for a $50-$100 jar of organic moisturiser that has to be used in 3 months, or a $19.95 jar that’s fine for 12 months once you open it.

Do you have health problems, skin sensitivities or allergic reactions to a lot of chemicals? Then I would absolutely recommend you look for naturally preserved products. If you don’t and you’re on a budget, take a look at the more affordable offerings with this synthetic preservative at less than 1%. We sell samples of many of our skin care range. Spend a dollar and give it a test before you decide one way or the other.

I personally choose to limit my use of phenoxyethanol, but that said, I have used products in the past containing the preservative with no issues. You may be different.

The EWG (Environmental Working Group)

A well respected body on the use of chemicals have this to say about phenoxyethanol.

  • No information on cancer
  • No information on developmental & reproductive toxicity
  • Low concerns for allergies & immunotoxicity
  • Classified as an irritant for eyes, skin & lungs
  • Classified as toxic or harmful for products used around the mouth or lips

Read the whole article HERE.

Natural sources of phenoxyethanol

The chemical compound phenoxyethanol can be found naturally in green tea and chicory, but the version used in skin care products is a synthetically produced version in a lab.

Do certified organic products contain phenoxyethanol?

It’s important to understand that there’s more than one governing body that certifies products. They all have a different set of criteria. These days, the blanket answer to this question is no. ECOCERT have removed it as an allowed ingredient, and others already have or are following suit. Manufacturers are going through the expensive process of reformulating their products to keep certification, or in some cases, losing it. In our own store, all certified organic products are phenoxyethanol free. Many non certified products are too. Some aren’t. Please read through the list of ingredients or ask us if you have any questions.

Read another balanced view on the topic

There’s a great article written at No More Dirty Looks which pretty much sums up my personal opinion on the whole topic. Read it HERE. Basically, if phenoxyethanol is the only ‘suspect’ ingredient in the list, I don’t think there’s a great deal of need for alarm. If it’s one of a long list of ‘suspect’ ingredients, run a mile. Any product in our store containing phenoxyethanol falls under the FIRST category, and we’re with the gals at No More Dirty Looks, I really hope they all reformulate and remove it as soon as possible.

Shop our natural skin care range

We have an extensive range of natural & certified skin care products in store. Some contain less than 1% of phenoxyethanol or similar chemical preservative, others are completely natural and some go one step further and are certified organic. Please feel free to contact us with any pre-sales questions. Since we cater to everyone, we have no hesitation in pointing you in the direction of the product that suits your needs, sensitivities and budget.

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