Spotlight on Phenoxyethanol

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Updated: 09/29/2023

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What is Phenoxyethanol?

Also known as Ethylene Glycol Monophenyl Ether, phenoxyethanol is a synthetic preservative used in consumer products and pharmaceutical drugs.

Where You’ll Find Phenoxyethanol & Why It’s Sneaky

You’ll find phenoxyethanol in personal care products including makeup (e.g. eye shadow, foundation, and mascara) and moisturizers as well as skin- and hair-care products for babies and kids. The compound has become increasingly popular in recent years, as it serves the manufacturing industry as a replacement to parabens, established endocrine disruptors. In addition, phenoxyethanol is used as an insect repellant and disinfectant and added to perfume to reduce the volatility of compounds dispensed as a spray. Phenoxyethanol is also an ingredient in some vaccines (1). You’ll find this preservative in many “organic” and “natural products.”

Why Phenoxyethanol Is Dangerous

Phenoxyethanol has been cited for hepatotoxicity (liver toxicity) and may cause nervous system disease (2). A member of a class of glycol ethers, phenoxyethanol poses a threat of being toxic to reproductive and developmental health. Other glycol ethers have been shown to cause genetic mutations, testicular atrophy, and interference in reproductive health in mice (3). The chemical may also cause contact dermatitis in some individuals with allergic susceptibility (4, 5). Indirectly, phenoxyethanol can degrade and produce acetaldehyde, which is identified as a likely carcinogen (6).

How to Avoid Phenoxyethanol Exposure

Be aware of products that offer topical antiseptic properties. Safe antiseptic products include Healthy Hand Antiseptic Wipes and the all-natural white vinegar. For makeup and creams, oil-based compounds (rather than water-based) are less likely to include preservatives like phenoxyethanol.

None of the products in our online store contain phenoxyethanol.


3) Hardin BD (June 1983). “Reproductive toxicity of the glycol ethers”. Toxicology 27 (2): 91–102.doi:10.1016/0300-483X(83)90014-8.
4) ZZug KA, Warshaw EM, Fowler JF et al. (2009). “Patch-test results of the North American Contact Dermatitis Group 2005-2006”. Dermatitis 20 (3): 149–60. PMID 19470301.
5) Heidary N, Cohen DE. Hypersensitivity reactions to vaccine components. Dermatitis. 2005 Sep;16(3):115-20.
6) International Agency for Research on Cancer Monograph Working Group, Special Report: Policy A review of human carcinogens—Part E: tobacco, areca nut, alcohol, coal smoke, and salted fish. The Lancet 2009 10, 1033–1034.

Written by Rebecca Stern, Guest Blogger

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Leave a Reply

  1. Emily Avatar

    Almost all the foundations out there have this ingredient. What is a good makeup brand/foundation you recommend?

    1. Jenny Avatar

      Kjaer Weiss and Alima Pure are two great options. Also RMS makes nice products. I order then on Beauty Spirit Lounge but you can go directly to the companies sites.