Phenoxyethanol in Skincare: Is it Safe for Skin?
Phew. What a loaded question, right?
Trust us, Beauties—the answer isn’t as complicated as it seems.
Recently, the preservative phenoxyethanol has gotten a bad rep and been shunned by a lot of the beauty community. Needless to say, it’s a pretty controversial topic at the moment.
When it comes to vegan, cruelty-free, natural, and clean beauty (yes—they’re all different!), many brands try to avoid preservatives and/or synthetic ingredients. While not all companies do this, it’s definitely a trend.
Despite the grief they get, preservatives are incredibly important when it comes to maintaining the formula and life of a product, especially one with natural ingredients. Without something keeping it clean and fresh, the product can, over time, become dangerous to use.
The importance of preservatives
Contrary to popular belief, preservatives are actually important when it comes to clean, vegan, and cruelty-free beauty products (and other cosmetics, too).
Why? We’re glad you asked.
The more natural a product gets, the more likely it is to spoil quickly. Because the ingredients aren’t synthetic or necessarily stable, they’re more likely to go bad, like old food (don’t get us wrong, we love ingredients that are safe enough to eat!).
A preservative of some kind keeps products safe and helps them last. Water-based products, or ones more likely to be contaminated (like mascara or lipstick), need something to keep them from growing mold and harboring bacteria.
Putting bacteria-infested cosmetics on your skin is not only gross, but it’s also dangerous too. Allergic reactions, rashes, infections, breakouts, blisters, and swelling are all risks when it comes to using contaminated or spoiled beauty products. And without an effective preservative present, your products are likely to spoil more quickly.
This isn’t to say all preservatives are good. That’s definitely not the case. But, there are some that are considered safe in small amounts.
Do natural preservatives exist?
Many brands—like Earth Harbor, a fan-fave in the Kinder community—choose to use natural preservatives as an alternative to synthetically-produced ones.
Using natural preservatives is a little bit harder. Because there isn’t one specific preservative that works with all ingredients, brands have to use specific preservatives for specific products to make sure the ingredients play nice with each other. Plus, there needs to be a system of preservatives in place to protect the product against a range of potential contaminants, like mold, yeast, and other bacteria—not one natural preservative can zap all of these at once.
There is also a higher risk of a natural preservative failing. However, brands can test their natural preservatives’ effectiveness in labs before they’re released to make sure they’re safe to use (and we’re sure most do!).
What is phenoxyethanol?
Okay, let’s get into the nitty-gritty: what is phenoxyethanol, anyway?
The actual ingredient itself is a colorless, oily, and sticky substance, with a light rose scent. And, although it’s usually made in a lab, phenoxyethanol is actually naturally occurring and found in green tea!
Basically, it’s a substance that keeps your products fresh. This preservative fights against mold, fungi, and other nasty bacteria. It can also be used as a stabilizer in things like perfumes and soaps to help all of the ingredients mesh together.
Phenoxyethanol is becoming more and more common in the beauty industry, which is why it’s getting so much buzz lately. This preservative is rapidly replacing parabens—which we always stay away from—across the entire beauty world. Because it’s considered safer than parabens, mixes extremely well with most (if not all) other ingredients, and is considered a super stable substance, it’s quickly becoming the global-favorite preservative.
And while not all synthetic ingredients are safe to use (many of them we stay away from here at Kinder Beauty), having a safe preservative like phenoxyethanol in skincare and cosmetics is actually vital in keeping them safe to use.
What kinds of products use phenoxyethanol?
This preservative isn’t limited to cosmetics.
Because of its preserving and stabilizing properties, phenoxyethanol is used in a wide range of household products, too.
Let’s take a quick look at how common this ingredient is. Find it in:
- Dish and hand soap
- Nail polish
- Body wash
- Ultrasound gel
- Shaving cream
- Shampoo and conditioner
- Lip balm
- Household cleaning products
- Skincare products
…among other products. Needless to say, it’s quickly become an ingredient staple across the world—mostly because it does its job well.
Why is phenoxyethanol used in cosmetics?
With parabens out of the question, phenoxyethanol is a top choice when it comes to keeping products safer for longer.
Believe it or not, safe synthetics and preservatives actually do exist (despite their negative rep!). Without preservatives, the risk of using spoiled products skyrockets. And most of the time it’s impossible to know when a product has gone bad, making preservative-free products all the more dangerous.
The shelf life of a product without preservatives is 6 months or less (usually way less). And water-based products (think moisturizers and foundations) are particularly prone to quick-spoiling because of the risk of mold.
When you add a preservative like phenoxyethanol, the products’ shelf life jumps to 12-18+ months. So not only do you have more time to actually use up the product, but you’re also less likely to expose yourself to dangerous bacteria.
Is phenoxyethanol safe for skin?
Like in almost all other cases, the phrase “okay in moderation” applies here.
Phenoxyethanol is considered safe all over the world in quantities of 1% or lower. And the good news is, you really won’t see it in any higher concentrations.
Of course, in large doses, it can be dangerous. However, the amount needed to keep your products safe and fresh isn’t nearly high enough to cause any short or long-term health issues. Plus, it’s considered safe to use daily.
However, phenoxyethanol, like most other preservatives, can be a skin irritant for those with eczema and/or sensitive skin. Although severe reactions are rare, it’s recommended that those with sensitive skin either do a patch test or avoid it altogether.
Does Kinder Beauty allow phenoxyethanol?
Yes, yes we do.
Because it’s the safest, cleanest option for clean, cruelty-free, and vegan beauty products, we do allow products with this preservative in our boxes and in our marketplace. Not to mention it’s cost-effective, shelf-stable, and less irritating than most other preservatives on the market.
Consider this: Pacifica (another KB community fave) is considered a clean brand, but uses phenoxyethanol in their products. So, even with the use of this preservative, brands and products are considered clean and safe to use on your skin.
We know it’s a little controversial. But, your safety is our top priority, and keeping your products free from harmful bacteria is super important to us.
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