Written on 23.04.2020. Posted in ingredient series.
There is a lot of confusion and uncertainty about phenoxyethanol. Hopefully, this will clear things up a bit.
2-phenoxyethanol is the most commonly used preservative in personal care products. It is often used in water-based cosmetics or cosmetics where water can be introduced to protect it from microbial growth. It is also used as a fragrance ingredient under the label Fragrance or Parfum. It is contained in about 40% of all skincare products and can be found in all products of virtually all categories, especially if they are water-based. This includes creams, lotions, shampoos, and conditioners. Given its wide-spread use, most skincare users apply it at least once a day to their skin.
In the EU, phenoxyethanol is limited to a maximum concentration of 1% when used as cosmetic preservative. However, over-the-counter pharmacy disinfectants can contain a 2% concentration of phenoxyethanol.
It is not permitted as food additive in the EU. Ecocert prohibits the use of phenoxyethanol in certified products.
1. Does Scientific Committee for Consumer Safety consider phenoxyethanol safe for use as a preservative with a maximum concentration of 1%?
Yes, the SCCS considers phenoxyethanol safe for use as a preservative with a maximum concentration of 1%.
2. Taking into account the specific age groups who might be particularly susceptible to the effects of phenoxyethanol used as preservatives in cosmetic products, does the SCCS consider phenoxyethanol safe?
Children up to 3 years may be exposed to higher doses of phenoxyethanol in cosmetic products than adults. However, even in reasonable worst case scenarios the estimated dosage is considered safe for this age group.
3. Does the SCCS have any further scientific concerns with regard to the use of phenoxyethanol in cosmetic products?
This Opinion does not take into account exposure from sources other than cosmetics.
In different studies, products with 1% or less phenoxyethanol were found to be skin sensitizing or cause an allergic reaction to about 0.2% of the population. The sensitisation exposure quotient was the lowest of all tested preservatives.
However, outside of the EU evaluation, there have been some concerns raised. The French health authorities (ANSM) recommended to limit phenoxyethanol in products for infants diaper to a maximum proportion of 0.4% based on possible toxicity.
In 2020, the government of Palau prohibited the use of phenoxyethanol in sunscreen based on a 2017 study indicating its negative effect on coral reefs.
Despite the low allergenic potential of phenoxyethanol, due to the widespread use it makes sense for users with allergy-prone skin to monitor its use and experiment with oil-based skincare with less or without preservatives.
Aside from that, based on the comprehensive 2016 report by the EU, phenoxyethanol is safe for almost all skincare users.