Phenoxyethanol is a chemical (glycol ether) that is finding its way into all kinds of skin products due to its function as a preservative and anti-bacterial. It also acts as a stabilizer in perfume. Spec sheets for phenoxyethanol indicate that it is harmful if swallowed, inhaled or absorbed through the skin and that it can cause reproductive damage (at 100% concentrations) In cosmetics the concentrations are typically 0.5% to 1%. Phenoxyethanol is used in an estimated 50% of skin care products, even products designed for use on infants, however there is mounting pressure to limit or reduce its presence:
- Japan has instituted a concentration limit for its use in cosmetics
- In Europe it’s classified as an irritant
- In the U.S., the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) shows chromosomal changes, genetic mutation as well as interference with reproductivity in mice
- There are over 3,000 known allergens and phenoxyethanol is considered among the top 10 in frequency, most noted by irritation of the eyes, skin, and respiratory tract
Given the wealth of mounting evidence, many health conscious folks would rather take a pass even at concentrations of 1% or lower, but it’s easier said than done, given how pervasive this chemical has become.