Vegan lip balms are a wax-like substance applied to a person’s lips to saturate and soothe…
Preservatives In Natural Skincare: Is Phenoxythanol Safe?
Thanks to documentaries like “The Human Experiment” on Netflix, most of us have become a lot more aware of the insidious chemicals lurking in our household products disguised in harmless looking packaging.
The same is true when it comes to our skincare products. All you have to do is pick up a commercial drugstore product and look at the long list of tongue-twisting ingredients to see my point.
You might have heard the saying “If you can’t pronounce it, don’t use it”, but did you know that some preservatives are essential, even in natural products such as ours, to prevent deadly bacteria from forming?
In order to prevent the use of harmful chemicals such as parabens, we use a safer preservative called Phenoxyethanol.
What is it and is phenoxyethanol safe as a natural skincare preservative?
Don’t let the name scare you.
This is one preservative, that when used in small doses, poses no threat to your health whatsoever. Phenoxyethanol is naturally occurring in green tea, however the commercial ingredient is made in a laboratory from alkyl ethers of ethylene glycol.
Its main purpose is to stave off the presence and/or growth of bacteria in cosmetic products. Any product that contains water, such as body lotion, has a high risk of developing dangerous bacteria that can pose a serious threat to your health.
This is why Phenoxyethanol is essential for preventing this and keeping our products safe.
You will notice that some of our products, such as our lip balms and Vegan Vapor Rub do not contain Phenoxyethanol simply because these products do not contain any water.
Is Phenoxyethanol Safe?
According to a study in the International Journal of Toxicology, the low percentage (in general less than 2 percent) of phenoxyethanol in cosmetics is safe and non toxic to humans. Of note, at Lowen’s we use a concentration of Phenoxyethanol at less than 1%!
At Lowen’s, our concentrations are lower than 1 percent.
High concentrations may cause issues like rashes, but our concentrations are far too low for you to ever have to worry about this.
It’s like anything in life. Too much of a good thing is usually not good for you.
You wouldn’t eat donuts every day all day long, because this would negatively impact your health and you would feel pretty awful. The same goes for Phenoxyethanol; high concentrations in commercial drugstore cosmetics may cause sensitivity, but the incredibly low concentrations we use pose no risk.
Can my kids use it?
If we deem our products safe to use, we mean they are safe for everybody! In fact, Lowen’s was named after our daughter, Lowen, who was the inspiration for all of our products due to a recurring diaper rash that no commercial product would treat.
This is how our first product, a natural chemical-free diaper balm was born.
The bottom line…
We use only organic, fair trade, natural preservatives as ingredients in our skincare.
We don’t believe in a shopping list of ingredients in our products, but rather simple, natural ingredients that deliver the expected results without the use of chemicals.
Phenoxyethanol is the only preservative we use in our water-based products and the concentrations are so low, we can guarantee it is perfectly safe to use. We use this preservative to keep our products free of harmful bacteria and safe for use on everyone in your family.
If it’s safe for us, it’s safe for you too, because we don’t bring any products to the market until they have been tested on ourselves first!
This Post Has 3 Comments
Hi. I have some concerns about your use of phenoxyethanol in your products. Now, I get that your brand believes that even synthetic phenoxyethanol is a safer preservative when used at low percentages. However, if it’s in several products within the same line, how do we avoid being exposed to higher percentages unless we only use one of your products at any given time and avoid using that product often? Wouldn’t multiple products and using them daily, sometimes twice daily for months or even years, no longer be exposure to low percentages of phenoxyethanol? Long-term and repeated exposure are my main concerns. Thank you in advance!
Thank you for your comments and insight. We can certainly understand where you are coming from.
As for a little context, we actually had reformulated our water containing products in years past with an alternative, EcoCert Certified, preservative and had recurrent issues with short shelf life and microbial overgrowth. Honestly, that almost did us in as a company. So we went back to using phenoxyethanol. I am very aware of the perception of this preservative in the natural skincare realm and if there were more viable alternatives, we would use them. Essentially it is a balance of expectations and risks. Customers expect a product that has a sustained shelf life, doesn’t break apart (e.g. the emulsion staus together) in addition to being safe, effective and affordable. These are not unreasonable expectations. What we have found is that more “natural” and purported safe alternatives are not as effective, at least for our line. Per our EWG verified status, we only use phenoxyethanol in concentrations @ <1% (actually @0.75%) in our water containing products. But, just because we are below the inclusion parameters, doesn't necessarily mean we are "safer." So I'm picking up what you are putting down.
Understandably, there would be more concern with leave on products like our lotions and creams vs our rinse off products. That said, the literature does indicate that there is significant measurable skin absorption of phenoxyethanol for both types of preparations. That said, your point about accumulation/cumulative exposure is a sound one. In toxicity studies conducted on animals (which I do not condone - but that is another discussion), inhaled, consumed and topical exposure has been studied. Only the oral exposure at a level of 100mg/kg of body weight indicated toxicity (in the form of effects on blood cells). In human studies, as one would expect, there was greater absorption of phenoxyethanol for the leave on vs wash off preparations. What was interesting is that the phenoxyethanol absorbed was rapidly metabolized and excreted as phenoxyacetic acid in our urine within 24 hours. We have enzymes within our skin that metabolize it as well as in our liver (which does most of the heavy lifting). So from the information that I have reviewed and considering 2 routes of metabolism (the skin and the liver), even with liver impairment, one would expect that the phenoxyethanol would be rendered inert metabolized and excreted quickly.
As phenoxyethanol has been studied so extensively and combined with its effectiveness and relative low cost, it has proven to be our preservative of choice. I do not love it and when/if a comparable and seemingly safer alternative presents itself, I will be very interested to try. That said, we will continue to look at water free preparations and packaging that in and of itself provides protection from degradation (e.g. airless containers) to avoid using preservatives all together.
If you are interested in some homework, "Safety review of phenoxyethanol when used as a preservative in cosmetics" JEADV 2019, 33 (Suppl. 7), 15–24 has some really good, current data that speaks to the points that I have made.
Thank you for your question!
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