Phenoxyethanol in Skin Care: A Natural Preservative?

Phenoxyethanol in Skin Care: A Natural Preservative?

February 28, 2019

If you’re a concerned consumer, chances are you’ve read about the potential dangers of many preservatives used in the beauty industry. Two of the most well-known preservatives, parabens and formaldehyde, are on many people’s list of ingredients to avoid (for good reason). Thankfully, there are safer alternatives available. Read on to learn about how phenoxyethanol, what it is and how it is used. 

Why Are Preservatives Used in Skin Care Products?

Simply put, preservatives are used to keep products from growing bacteria, mold and yeast. For any skin care products that you intend to use for longer than a month, it’s critical that they contain some type of preservative to ensure your safety.

Tip: Be mindful of expiration dates. Expired products don’t just lose their effectiveness, they can also cause skin irritation if the preservative is no longer active and the product becomes contaminated.

What is Phenoxyethanol?

Phenoxyethanol (PE) is a preservative found naturally occurring in green tea and chicory. For commercial purposes, phenoxyethanol has been synthetically re-created in a laboratory. This is known as making a “nature identical” chemical. Phenoxyethanol is a clear, colorless and chemically stable liquid that acts as an effective antimicrobial against bacteria, yeasts and mold.  So is the Phenoxyethanol found in skin care "all natural"...technically no, but there is more you should know. 


Is it Safe to Use Phenoxyethanol in Skin Care Products?

The EU and Japan permit the use of phenoxyethanol in skin care products at a concentration of 1% or less.  And, when it is used in trace amounts, it’s shown to be a safe and effective preservative, with no evidence of causing cancer or  disrupting hormones like Parabens.  And, in a recent study, phenoxyethanol was found to be the safest preservative available for use in a neonatal intensive care unit where preventing infections is top priority.

So why have some skin care ingredient watchdog groups labeled this preservative as questionable?  Because it may cause sensitivity or allergic reactions in certain people.  But what these well intentioned groups lose sight of, is the fact that natural ingredients frequently cause allergic reactions as well. 

Just look at Poison Ivy, it is 100% natural but you definitely don't want to rub it on your face.  In this case, common sense tells us that adequately preserving a product and safety comes first. 

But Why The Controversy? 

Invariably, studies surface where ingredients, in this case Phenoxyethanol are used at very high concentrations.  At very high concentrations, there is always more systemic absorption and any potential harmful effects are magnified.  But what is important to remember, is that there is a recommended dosage/ usage amount for everything. 

Take Tylenol for example.  It can relieve your headache but take too much of it and it can cause liver toxicity.  It is; however, perfectly safe and helpful when one follows the guidelines.  And look at salt...what could be more natural, but have too much of it and it can raise your blood pressure, cause water retention and bloating. 

Looking for Mindfully Created Skin Care Products?

At Theoderma, we choose our ingredients carefully and craft our products mindfully. That means using the highest quality botanicals and clean actives to deliver results all while being safely preserved!  If you are looking for high end natural products created by a dermatology expert then shop our line or use our Meet Your Match tool to see what we’ve crafted for you.

Savy Guthrie has been a PA working in dermatology for 17 years and has worked in medicine for 20 years overall.  She has treated tens of thousands of patients, helping them achieve healthy, beautiful skin. 

Savy Guthrie is a dermatology PA with 17 years of patient care experience and is the founder of Theoderma Skin Care.

Savy with her dog



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