Watch out for this preservative...
Preservatives are an essential component to any water-containing cosmetic product. Besides prolonging the shelf life of the product, their most important function is to prevent the growth of microbes. Formulating a product without them would be considered reckless as the risk of causing serious infections and irritations would be huge. Think about a product contaminated with bacteria that is designed to be used around the eyes for example.
Phenoxyethanol is a ubiquitous preservative used in the cosmetic industry. Phenoxyethanol was and perhaps still is considered a very good alternative to formaldehyde releasing preservatives. Its effective against a broad spectrum of microbes, it’s readily available and it’s cheap.
Phenoxyethanol is a substance found naturally occurring in green tea but depsite this there are some concerns about it’s suitability as a preservative. Some people are allergic to it (1) and when its combined with parabens in a product its allergic effect seems to be heightened (2). The FDA (American Food and Drug Administration) warned about its use in a breastfeeding nipple cream in 2015 as it had severe effects on the infants that were inadvertently ingesting it. It depressed their nervous system causing lethargy, vomiting and diarrhoea. It did not have an effect on the mother. Interestingly it is included in Doppler Ultrasound gel so if you have had a reaction to this gel before you could be sensitive to phenoxyethanol.
The EU regards phenoxyethanol as an irritant and restricts its use in cosmetics to less than 1% as does Japan. Many people do not respond negatively below 1% but some do. We don’t use phenoxyethanol. We do not put irritants in our products! But many do. The next time you use your products have a quick peek at the label. Even those that claim to be ‘natural’ or ‘safe’ or ‘kind’ etc etc have this ingredient in their repertoire.
It took a bit of searching to find a preservative that we were happy with. The two ingredients in our preservative are 1,2-Hexanediol and Caprylyl Glycol. Check it out on EWG Skin Deep Cosmetics Database. On the safety rating scale of 1 – 10, 1 being the best and 10 being the worst, they both rate 1. It’s as safe as they get. ALL of our ingredients are rated 1 on this database and if that for some reason changes we will let people know. It’s our policy to be fully honest and open about the safety ratings of our ingredients. This makes us different to many other companies out there!
A continued interest in ingredients by customers will make the cosmetic industry as a whole raise its standards. We have seen what the concern about parabens has done – many companies are finding alternatives now as they realise many customers want to avoid them. Reading the list of ingredients on a box can be a minefield but they can be checked on by downloading the EWG Skin Deep cosmetics Database app. Another tip would be to watch out for companies who only list ‘key’ ingredients on their website. It is not these ingredients that are harmful but the surfactants, emulsifiers, preservatives, stabilisers that can be of concern and I feel that by not listing all of the ingredients there may be something to hide…
(1) Bohn, S., & Bircher, A. J. (2001). Phenoxyethanol‐induced urticaria. Allergy, 56(9), 922-923
(2) Chasset, F., Soria, A., Moguelet, P., Mathian, A., Auger, Y., Francès, C., & Barete, S. (2015). Contact dermatitis due to ultrasound gel: A case report and published work review. The Journal of dermatology.