Chemical of the Month: Phenoxyethanol

by toxicologist Ewa Daniél

What is it? 

Phenoxyethanol is a preservative, used in cosmetics. It is usually made synthetic, but actually Phenoxyethanol can also be found as a natural ingredient in green tea.

Preservatives are often described in a negative way, and perceived as something bad and dangerous to our health. But you must be aware that when a cosmetic product contains water it is necessary to use preservatives in order to avoid bacteria and fungi in the product. Using a product with bacteria, mold or fungi would for sure not be good for you and your skin.

At the moment Phenoxyethanol is the most used preservative in Scandinavia and probably also the rest of Europe. It is used ether alone or in combination with other preservatives. It is a very popular preservative to use since is works against both bacteria, fungi, mold and yeast in the product.

So what is the problem?

Several bloggers and green/natural companies write that Phenoxyethanol is toxic to the kidneys, nerou system, and liver, and repeated, long-term exposure can cause organ damage.

But what most of these articles do not say is that the damage to your system can occure if you eat Phenoxyethanol in an undiluted manner and not as used as preservative in cosmetic products. And by the way: Phenoxyethanol is strictly regulated so that you are only allowed to use maximum 1 %. It is very important when we talk about chemicals (and also many other aspects in life) that we look at the level of concentration used in products. We all know the story about salt: if we eat a small amount every day – no problem. But if we eat a kilo it will be poisoneous.

This is the reason why we do risk assessment. In a risk assessment we look at the chemical used in a specific product, in the highest concentration used and how big the exposure is (how many times a day – and is it a big area like bodylotion or maybe only the nails being exposed).

What the experts say about Phenoxyethanol

The SCCS (Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety) has released a 90 pages long report where they asses all the scientific tests and literature there is about Phenoxyethanol and the conclusion is that

it is safe to use Phenoxyethanol in products for children, adults and babies in 1,0 %

In 2015 Miljøstyrelsen (the Danish EPA) made an assessment of Phenoxyethanol, they concluded that exposure of Phenoxyethanol in wet wipes used on babies in the diaper area does not pose a risk.

Should you have any questions or require further information please don’t hesitate to contact our toxicologist Ewa Daniél on