Why We Banned Phenoxyethanol

Contributing Author: Malia Thomspon

One of, if not, the most controversial ingredient we have banned is phenoxyethanol (FEE-NOCK-SEE-ETH-UH-NAHL). As a preservative it’s one of the most commonly used ingredients that can be found in just about any kind of skincare product.

What is phenoxyethanol? It’s a preservative meant to prolong the life of a product and eliminate bacteria, fungus, and mold. While bacteria, fungus, and mold must be kept out of products, there are cleaner options available when preserving products.

So how did phenoxyethanol grow to prominence? Parabens, another preservative, came under fire over the last 20 years for its link to endocrine (hormonal) disruption. The industry needed another preservative that worked as well, was easy to obtain, and was cost effective. Phenoxyethanol quickly took over and became the preservative of choice for many creators.

However, in the last 15 years, scientists began noting the harmful effects of phenoxyethanol. It was linked to skin and immune system toxicity and/or allergies. It’s been banned in different countries for use on children under the age of 3. You may read that phenoxyethanol can be derived from green tea; however, commercially it is sourced through synthetic formulation – a process by which phenol is treated with ethylene oxide. (Ethylene oxide is another ingredient we’ve banned as it’s long been classified as a known human carcinogen and listed on California’s Proposition 65 list of chemicals known or suspected to cause cancer. Lymphoma and leukemia are the cancers most commonly connected occupational exposure of ethylene oxide. Breast cancer and developmental issues have also been connected to ethoxylated ingredients.) 

Many countries have limited phenoxyethanol’s use to 1% of the product formulation, which is not the case in the United States. So even if we looked to regulations in other countries, there’s no clear way for consumers to know when they breach that barrier when combining different products (remember it can be in almost any personal care product you buy), so it’s very difficult for us to police that threshold.

All of us at MADEWITH understand there are risks in just about every choice we make, and we’re not here to scare anyone – we’re here to inform. Our approach to choosing clean mostly comes down to the fact that there are PLENTY of effective products available to consumers that don’t include ingredients like phenoxyethanol, so why add it to your skincare? Especially when avoiding the risk means you’re prioritizing your health over the bottom line of a company.

See more about phenoxyethanol and the citations backing our research on our Never MADEWITH List. You can also read about the lack of skincare regulation in the United States in this post.

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