What is Phenoxyethanol?

In short, phenoxyethanol is a preservative. According to cosmeticsinfo.org, “A preservative is a natural or synthetic ingredient that is added to products such as foods, pharmaceuticals and personal care products to prevent spoilage, whether from microbial growth or undesirable chemical changes [1].”

Any retail cosmetic product sold to a consumer has some sort of preservative or a preservative system. Phenoxyethanol has been used since the 1980s as a safe alternative to parabens. More on parabens in a separate article. Phenoxyethanol does not bind to or accumulate in the skin and it is not thought to be an endocrine disruptor [2].

Phenoxyethanol kills many types of harmful microorganisms that can render a product dangerous or less effective. It is effective against what is called Gram‐negative and Gram‐positive bacteria as well as yeasts [3].

Is phenoxyethanol dangerous?

The Cosmetic Ingredient Review was established 44 years ago and is given support by the Personal Care Products Council and supported by the US Food & Drug Administration among others. They have an Expert Panel made up of toxicologists and dermatologists that continuously evaluate compounds used in cosmetics and are internationally respected organization [4]. In the last review of compounds found in cosmetics, in 2011, the Expert Panel confirmed that the use of Phenoxyethanol in a concentration less than 1% is safe [5]. Happy Cappy products comply with these guidelines.

According to the Cosmetic Ingredient Review in clinical studies, phenoxyethanol is not a skin irritant, nor does it cause delayed hypersensitivity. This means it will not cause reactions when this product is placed on the skin or after several weeks of use. It would also be very rare for a person to experience skin irritation if exposed to the sun when using a product containing phenoxyethanol [5]. According to one classification scheme it is practically non-toxic if consumed orally—however, we do not suggest eating Happy Cappy products [2].

Has anyone weighed in on the safety of phenoxyethanol and its use on children?

The European Commission has a Scientific Committee called the Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) [6]. If you were wondering, The European Commission is similar to the Executive Branch of U.S. government but pertains to the entire European Union.

The SCCS, “provides opinions on health and safety risks (chemical, biological, mechanical and other physical risks) of non-food consumer products (e.g. cosmetic products and their ingredients, toys, textiles, clothing, personal care and household products) and services (e.g. tattooing, artificial sun tanning) for all of Europe [6].”

Use of phenoxyethanol as a preservative in cosmetic products was assessed by the Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) in 2016. “This assessment led the committee to conclude that phenoxyethanol was safe for consumers – including children of all ages – when used as a preservative in cosmetic products at a maximum concentration of 1% [3].”

Other interesting facts about phenoxyethanol

Phenoxyethanol has been used as a topical antiseptic, it has been used as a preservative in vaccines, and it can be present in natural products such as green tea [4]. We hope you have enjoyed this scientific review of phenoxyethanol. We feel more comfortable knowing that this safe molecule is present in some of our Happy Cappy products to prevent spoilage.

  1. “Preservative Information.” https://www.cosmeticsinfo.org/?s=preservative Accessed 1 April, 2020.
  1. Final Report on the Safety Assessment of Phenoxyethanol. Journal of the American College of Toxicology. Volume 9, Number 2, 199O Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., Publishers 9
  2. Dreno B, et al. Safety review of phenoxyethanol when used as a preservative in cosmetics. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol.2019 Nov;33 Suppl 7:15-24. doi: 10.1111/jdv.15944.
  3. “About the cosmetic ingredient review.” https://www.cir-safety.org/about . Accessed 1 April 2020.
  4. Annual Review of Cosmetic Ingredient Safety Assessments: 2007-2010. International Journal of Toxicology. 30(Suppl. 2):73-127, 2011
  5. “Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS).” https://health.ec.europa.eu/scientific-committees_en . Accessed 1 April 2020
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Dr. Eddie Valenzuela is an award winning pediatrician and the founder and CEO of Pediatric Solutions, LLC.

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