7 Things about Phenoxyethanol: The Allergy Paraben

Hands up who else suffers from oily/combination skin?! Yes, me too! Here’s an inside tip, you’re not unlucky, unfortunately, its the beauty industry and also the convenience of a product being half price or on offer that generally has you buying it again and again. We know we should be buying our beauty products based on ethics alone but, we don’t. Its all about the pigment, how long it lasts on our skin and how shiny our hair looks. Before buying anything now though, I’ve had to force myself to take note of actually what’s in the things I buy and how good they actually do make me feel and look. As some of the ingredients I’ve found in beauty products can be quiet damaging and will only reveal themselves later on in life. My issue is not only the ingredients but how they’re affecting my skin right now when I’m 26, I should be done with my teenage skin, right?

I’ve really struggled to find a brand that didn’t make me break out due to them having parabens and other nasties in them that actually cause breakouts, which is nuts because the whole point you buy anti-blemish products is the claims on the packaging, which lead you to run to the till and shout at the person at the till, “TAKE MY MONEY!” Okay- well, not actually shout at someone in a public place but you definitely have false hopes and that’s horrible as beauty can be very costly to find a particular brand or product that not only works but works for your skin. So, I pulled out a foundation, a bronzer and a random shampoo bottle from the bathroom at home to test my theory and guess what? They all contained this one paraben called Phenoxyethanol which after copious amounts of research and also speaking to a beauty therapist friend, I found, was super harmful to your skin and is an acne trigger. Here’s what else I found:


Phenoxyethanol is a preservative used to reduce bacteria build up in cosmetics and personal care products. Although globally used in a concentration of up to 1%, there have been studies which have found that many brands are using more than 6%. Even at 1% this synthetically made preservative (which can be found naturally, but is far too much money for companies to extract) is harmful to humans and also causes blemishes…I know! Annoying! Natural beauty brand Pai Skincare make it clear you won’t find it in their products as it causes skin conditions like eczema and allergic reactions. I know for me, it causes horrible itchy breakouts all along my jawline. Here are 7 more reasons to banish this paraben.


Phenoxyethanol belongs to the glycol ethers family, directly derived from vacuum distillation. About 80 are known. Many of them are highly toxic to humans, with effects that result in sterility, anomalies in the duration or regularity of menstrual cycles, difficulties in conceiving children, spontaneous abortions, damage to the embryo, congenital anomalies…take a look at this blog post on the FDA warning against a breastfeeding product that contains phenoxyethanol.


In 2008, the NIRS (National Institute for Research and Security) published a toxicological study about phenoxyethanol. It indicates that this substance is easily absorbed by the skin and metabolized to phenoxyacetic acid, which can lead to neurotoxic effects and neurological disorders. Moreover, it is a harmful potential, all the more important because glycol ether is easily absorbed by the skin in its liquid form (which is often the case with cosmetics).

In 2012, the ANSM (French Agency for the Safety of Health Products) has conducted a safety assessment of phenoxyethanol. Its conclusion: an acceptable safety margin for adults, but inadequate for children under the age of 3. The French Agency then asked Europe (whose texts make the cosmetic law throughout Europe, including France), new restrictions for the use of this substance. Application that will not be enforced.


The cosmetic field mainly uses four glycol ethers called E-series, which have the feature of causing the formation of toxic compounds in the organism. In 2000, the Consumer Safety Commission (a European body) already recommended a complete substitution of E-series glycol ethers for equivalent and non-hazardous substances.


The ANSM’s file is forwarded to the European experts who conclude, in March 2016 … that everything’s fine!!!

In their words,phenoxyethanol is safe at the maximum concentration currently in effect, and for all consumers, regardless of their age”.  Which means: even for babies, despite the alert of the French Agency. As a result: its regulatory status will not change and phenoxyethanol will remain allowed in cosmetics up to 1% of the formula.


Other recognized scientific data: phenoxyethanol has an allergenic potential. Cases of skin sensitization (the first stage of the onset of the disease), resulting in eczema and urticarial, are known. They are almost always linked to regular use of cosmetics containing phenoxyethanol.


If glycol ethers are still present in cosmetics, it’s because they are very easy to formulate, odourless (they don’t interfere with the product’s scent), and have a very low manufacturing cost. Most are used as solvents, for example in hair colourings. Phenoxyethanol is used for its preservative properties. However, manufacturers have at their disposal other solvents and other preservatives.

No, manufacturers ARE NOT OBLIGED to use them! By the way, organic cosmetics are doing very well, they’re just not advertised on the television so you’re not automatically thinking of them. It’s hard because you know what makeup brand lasts on your skin, however, most of these ‘well-known brands’ have Two factors for me is how long a foundation lasts as I have long work days so I need it to stay put and also coverage- I want that porcelain doll look, which I know some of the more organic brands don’t offer so I am still on the lookout for a good one. I will keep you posted on any I find which I hope will be soon…I’m still testing them.


The use of Phenoxyethanol is prohibited in organic cosmetics like (Ecocert, Cosmébio, Nature & Progrès, Cosmoc, NaTrue, BDIH…), however, phenoxyethanol is cheap and in order to make organic, high-quality products, ingredients that cost a little more are necessary, so, you will be paying more for your treasured organic brands.

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  1. Ashleigh
    16th November 2019 / 11:36 PM

    I recently had allergy patch tests with the NHS after suffering with eye eczema for well over a year. It came back with one chemical I was allergic to but I couldn’t find it in any of my products. To cut a long story down, it turned out to have many alternative names including… Phenoxyethanol.

    It was in my mascara, eyeshadow, shampoo, medicated cream from the doctor. Everything. It’s really frustrating. I have tried to search for cosmetics without it and I seem to find that stick foundations are free of it.

    I hope it’s banned one day! I think it will be a huge thing over the next few years of people realising how bad it is.

    • Laurabeth
      20th December 2019 / 5:28 AM

      Hi Ashleigh, its crazy how much of this toxic chemical is in pretty much all of our beauty products, I don’t know about you but it definitely makes me feel like I’m forced to choose a product that has it in it as we’re so limited with our choices. Luckily, I’ve managed to replace 90% of my beauty products that have it in it with a natural alternative, its hard and even harder now I’m living in Vietnam but I’m also blown away by the amount of natural products and brands out here like EKOKO, I use their lavender charcoal soap for my double cleanse and it makes my skin soft and keeps it clear. All 100% natural! I would highly recommend this brand if you can source it in your home country!

  2. Cindy DeFreece
    30th December 2019 / 2:12 AM

    I found out after 2 eye biopsies( because they thought it was cancer), several eye drops and eye doctor visits and then chemical patch test I have an allergy to paraben and about 7 other things. My eyes would itch and then have watery blisters and burst and then scab over. It was a nightmare. I now use Burts Bees makeup(after throwing all my other away. I look at all my labels now but I still mess up some.

    • Laurabeth
      6th January 2020 / 6:46 AM

      Hi Cindy, it’s scary, the cosmetic industry has no care for our skin and our natural bodies. I’m really glad it wasn’t anything so serious as cancer (hate saying that word) and at least your body is telling you what it doesn’t like, some people go their whole life without even realising the dangers of some beauty products. I’m glad you’ve found a brand that suits your skin. Its a battle most of us still have. LB X

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