Is Phenoxyethanol a Safe Preservative?
When the paraben scare first hit the beauty industry, many natural and organic skincare brands quickly looked for a safe alternative. Many chose to use a preservative called Phenoxyethanol. At the time this ingredient was considered a safe, gentle preservative which was non-irritating, killed bacteria and extended shelf life. However, since that time, various research has emerged showing Phenoxyethanol to be a skin irritant and it is believed to have damaging effects on the nervous system. Also, like parabens, it has also been shown to mimic estrogen. The EWG skindeep cosmetic database scores it 4. (I put my hand up to being fussy/obsessive about clean ingredients, but I’m only happy with those rated 0-2).
First of all, I want to stress that there are the skincare brands that are trying to pull the wool over our eyes and knowingly use harmful ingredients in the name of big profits and then there are those brands that are trying their best to provide us with a safe, natural product. However, it must be extremely difficult when the information on the safety or otherwise of an ingredient is forever changing. Reformulating products and re-labeling etc. is a very time consuming and costly project for any skincare brand. Therefore, we need to look at the bigger picture when we see Phenoxyethanol listed as an ingredient in an otherwise very clean skincare formulation. Thankfully many are now phasing it out. However, should we rule out an otherwise very good product just because it contains this ingredient? After all, the data about its safety is, as ever, conflicting, much of the research we read about on the internet is inconclusive and the quantities of the ingredients used in the testing is much higher than you would normally be exposed to. This is a decision for each of us based on all the information available.
I personally tend to avoid ingredients with any doubts overshadowing them – since there are so many other great skincare brands without this ingredient, why risk it?